Thursday, January 16, 2014

August: Osage County (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“August: Osage County”
Is About Shifting Power

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Expect Julia Roberts to get nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her I’m-in-charge performance in “August: Osage County.” (Yes, I know she was only nominated as Best Supporting Actress in the Golden Globes.) And you can count on Meryl Streep getting a nod for Best Supporting Actress for this riveting drama. (Sorry, Oprah.)

Yes, it’s that good, one of the year’s Top Ten. Number Three, on my list.

“August: Osage County” is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

It’s based on the play by Tracy Letts. He also wrote the screenplay for this film version, which is directed by John Wells (TV’s “The West Wing,” “ER”). George Clooney and the Weinstein brothers produced it.

Here, during a hot August in Osage County, Oklahoma, an alcoholic poet named Beverley Weston (Sam Shepard) does himself in. The family gathers around his pill-popping shrew of a wife, Violet (a painfully brilliant performance by Meryl Streep). We have oldest daughter Barbara (stronger than ever Julia Roberts), dealing with a troubled marriage to Bill (Ewan McGregor) and a vulnerable underage daughter (Abigail Breslin); needy sister Karen (Juliette Lewis) with her flashy fiancé (Dermot Mulroney); her stay-at-home sister Ivy (Julianne Nicholson); her assertive aunt (Margo Martindale) and stoic uncle (Chris Cooper) and can’t-do-anything-right cousin (Benedict Cumberbatch); and an observant Native American housekeeper (Misty Upham).

With this many family members inside four walls during a hot August summer, expect a collision of personalities.

Violet is mean and woozy, at conflict with her daughters. Barbara has never understood her mother -- or else understood her too well -- and left home early. She’d been her father’s favorite. But not her husband’s.

Karen just wants to get married and honeymoon in Belize. Ivy longs for love and escape from the crazy-quilt household. Aunt Mattie Fae and Uncle Charles are intertwined with the Westons in secretive ways. And the same could be said of their son Little Charles.

“August: Osage County” is about a generational shifting of power. And about the interworkings of a dysfunctional family.

But truth is, the movie is really about delivering powerhouse performances. And the possibility of winning Oscars. Just ask the Bob and Harvey Weinstein. They know something about family power.

Note: Since writing this review, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has announced this year’s Oscar nominees. And it proved me wrong by reversing the nominations I predicted for Meryl Street and Julia Roberts, although they indeed claimed those two top categories. It’s going to be an interesting race with such favorites as Cate Blanchett, Amy Adams, Dame Judi Dench, and Sandra Bullock along with Streep in the running for Best Actress. How do you choose?

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