Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘August: Osage County,’ a test of cinematic endurance

By Lauren Romag

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Courtesy Claire Folger/MCT

Courtesy Claire Folger/MCT

Prepare to be the unwelcomed fly on the wall to a family forced to reconnect after the suicide of the family patriarch, Beverly (Sam Shepard), in “August: Osage County.”

The focus of the film falls on Barbara (Julia Roberts), the eldest of the Weston Daughters, whose life is slowly crumbling as she has to deal with separating from her husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor), and trying to connect with her emotionally removed daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin). You are simultaneously introduced to a star-studded cast that makes up the rest of her family that is trying to deal with the sudden onslaught of drama.

It is made clear very early on that the film consists strictly of dysfunctional family bickering. There isn’t any substance besides various yelling matches between characters and the occasional breaking of dishware. Nearly everyone is completely insufferable, and it doesn’t help that you are also left with a more-than-subtle feeling of being out of the loop on sources of conflict, which proves to be more frustrating than for the good of the story.

This is especially true in the case of Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), the first cousin of the sisters and secret lover of the youngest, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson). Portrayed as the family screw-up by his mother, the constantly berating Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), besides some scenes displaying his apparent clumsiness and forgetful nature, comes off as sweet and well-wishing, not the complete and utter disappointment that he is considered to be.

To further muddle things, characters have a habit of disappearing when they are most vital to the occurrences on screen. Halfway through the film, most depart without ever being heard from again, regardless of the apparent necessity for their presence to be known for much needed character development.

There is a standout, though, whose character is perfectly formed and who brings a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. Rather, her Oscar-nominated role shines as a beacon of what the film ought to have been. Playing the family matriarch, Violet, Meryl Streep brings to the screen what Cate Blanchett brought to “Blue Jasmine” – complete and utter devotion to her crazed and drug-addicted on-screen counterpart.

With her role consisting of instigating the majority of the conflict that occurs, Streep is unsettlingly believable, often delivering near-fatal blows in the form of plot revelations that will stick with you even as the credits roll. Her shocking appearance consisting of a shaved head and hauntingly empty eyes have the ability to both enrage and pity as you watch her tear apart the lives of those around her and establish her isolation.

Other than this gem of an actress, for the first hour and a half, the film is more than borderline unendurable with characters that are generally shallow and hard to connect with and a storyline that is cliché at its best and watching-paint-dry lethargic at its worst. However, if you can make it to the last half hour, a glimmer of substantial plot revelations begin to unfold. Spoilers aside, the film leaves you with a heavy heart as you try to process the rapid-fire bombshells that were just tossed your way. |

“August: Osage County” is a commitment. If you are not willing to bear with it for the long haul, don’t bother. However, if you are willing to accept its (often dragging) baggage and see it through until the end, you won’t leave disappointed. The information that you have unexpectedly waited to hear is gut-wrenching and raw. You may indeed react much in the same way as Barbara, though what that reaction may be is yours to discover.

Just don’t blame yourself if, at times, you would rather plan to run away with Ivy to New York than stay until the credits.

Lauren Romag can be reached at [email protected]

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