Every parent should see August: Osage County. Not for the entertainment value, but for the educational value.
In the movie, matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) suffers from oral cancer and an addiction to prescription pills. But the crux of her problems lies in the inability to avoid passing on cruelty toward her children. Ready to capitalize on any vulnerability no matter how visible, Violet barrages those around her with devastating remarks that slice to the bone. No one is safe from her attacks. Her husband, a long-ago famous poet, kills himself to find respite.
Daughters Barbara and Karen (Julia Roberts and Juliette Lewis) fled to other parts of the country. They rejoin their sister Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Aunt Mattie Fae who have stayed close but not out of target range. The cruelty culminates in a harrowing dinner scene that ends in a brutal physical fight between Barbara and Violet over her pills.
Passing to Fail
But what is more haunting is the extent to which the meanness toward those with common blood is passed on. Mattie Fae’s husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) is the one that launches a defense that sets in motion the culminating decisions of characters. Do they remedy their behavior or do they remain in a cycle of viciousness?
Charlie says to her, “We’ve been married for thirty-eight years. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But if you can’t find a generous place in your heart for your own son, we’re not going to make it to thirty-nine.”
Author Tracy Letts adapted his Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play for the screen. There’s plenty of humor to offset the darkness, and director John Wells is a master at mining subtext. The entire cast deftly straddles the grey area between humor and sadism. At a special awards screening held simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles, the laughter and silences were barometers of comfortableness. And perhaps the awareness of the brutality as well.
About her family, Ivy says, “We’re all just people, some of us accidentally connected by genetics.”
The film is important for those who can’t find a generous place in their hearts to see what they truly look like.
In a special live-streamed Q&A from New York, Letts said that after writing his play, he gave the script to his mother. He said, “She said, ‘You’ve been very kind to my mother.'”
Just some of the other quotes:
On Violet’s ever-flowing biting remarks, Streep said, “There was a great liberation in that character.”
Streep also commented about the difficulty in being that character, “It wasn’t relief work in the Sudan. But it was hard.”
Margo Martindale who plays Mattie Fae said, “Meryl wanted everyone to live togetherÃ¢Â?Â¦We all lived in townhouses connected together.”
There are some casting ironies: similarly named actresses playing sisters; the “outsiders” played by Brits (Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch).
With the backup of The Weinstein Company, the film should deservedly do well in the awards consideration. While Roberts, Streep, and Cooper will grab the most attention, Lewis shouldn’t be forgotten.
August: Osage County opens Christmas Day.