As the credits roll on “August: Osage County,” one thinks of a Coasters lyric: “Yakety yak and don’t come back.” Actually the correct line is “Don’t talk back” but let’s not quibble. Because that works too—one doesn’t want to see or hear another word out of these people.
The vociferous Weston clan, made up of hard-headed women and weak-willed men, long disbanded, congregates. Why? Patriarch-poet Beverly (a subtly comic Sam Shepard) kicked the bucket.
He went fishing and drinking out on the lake and fell in. Once we get to know his family, we see why there’s a good possibility he threw himself in.
Beverly married Violet (Meryl Streep), a woman with such a toxic mouth it’s enough to make anyone, including the reviewer, want to go jump in a lake.
Explaining her cancer to the new housekeeper, he says, “I forgot the punchline. It’s mouth cancer.”
Meet the Fockers, er, Westons
Beverly and Violet had three daughters: tough-talking Barbara (Julia Roberts), co-dependent Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and dim-bulb Karen (Juliette Lewis).
Barbara and husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) have a rebellious tween daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin). Bill’s taken up with a younger woman as Barbara’s starting to develop her mother’s mouth.
It’s surprising, since this would be the archetypal prerequisite for it, that Barbara doesn’t pull a “Medea” (Euripedes version, not Tyler Perry’s) and murder her daughter to get back at Bill. That storyline would have fit right in here.
Karen has a Ferrari-driving slimy new fiancé, Steve (Dermot Mulroney), whose wandering eye lands on fourteen year-old Jean.
Luckily he gets apprehended mid-seduction of Jean, and given a good shovel-whacking by racist-Violet’s Native-American housekeeper (Misty Upham) before things get out of hand.
Quiet Ivy’s got a soft spot for her quiet cousin, the dim-witted man-child, “Little Charles” (Benedict Cumberbatch), who turns out to be not her cousin, but worse.
Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) had something to do with that, but don’t think too hard about it because nothing about this family is pleasant. This potential disaster is possibly thwarted. Then again—maybe not.
Getting the picture a little bit? This is a distilled essence of atmosphere and milieu, via synopsis highlights. Or lowlights. That all right there, just pretty much sums up the protracted dysfunction.
This kind of crazy works well on a stage, like Medea, or “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Cinema-wise, “Osage County” is sort of like “Nebraska” meets “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” meets “Meet the Fockers,” with none of the latter’s humor.
You’d think this stellar cast of superstars would be able to make this work. Of course they do, to a certain degree. There are some decent dramatic moments. Meryl will get her ten-thousandth Oscar nomination for sure.
It’s mostly the script—it’s too much of a bad thing. The archetypal pieces of dysfunction that all families carry will be recognizable in the Weston’s smorgasboard of troubles.
Problem is, with at least ten families’ worth of dysfunction packed in, and no happy resolution, what kind of a cinematic experience is it? The fingernails-on-a-blackboard kind. You want to pay 13 dollars to leave the theater looking for a lake to jump in?
‘August: Osage County’
Director: John Wells
Starring: Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch
Run Time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Release Date: Dec. 27, pushed back from original Dec. 25 release date.
2.5 stars out of 5