August: Osage County Review

Familiar family fights fuel the fiery, fraught friendships found within August: Osage County. Strong-headed women return home to the dysfunctional oddity that raised them. A family crisis makes this inevitable and necessary. Tracy Letts’ script offers nothing unique, but the parallels of a distant family longing for a big bust-up are too intriguing to refuse for many. We are ghouls hoping for breakdowns and fallouts because we find it entertaining to take a quick look at the lives of a fictional family. How much time is really needed to weave characters we care about, though? August: Osage County seems to need a lot more time, not just to make its characters interesting, but connected to one another.  

Its opening is relatively timid, but that may be because we are introduced to a cavalcade of characters. No moment goes by without someone new appearing or approaching the scene. Having so many characters mean we are open to a variety of interactions, the key is making sure enough embers are sparking from those moments of seething resentment. There are enough to tide us over, but not enough to convince us of the longevity of these troubles. Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts) and Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor) may flutter between light jokes and years of bitterness, but the build-up to it and the history between them is never quite realised. We are given a sense of the heat and its impact on the build-up of such a fallout, but never the reason for the fallout. It is shrouded by that inevitably loose definition of indignation toward family. 

Benefitting greatly from its ensemble cast, John Wells’ direction offers little in the way of responsibility. Tired tropes and destitute characters coddle themselves with the hopes a family reunion will bring about anything but underlying issues and tense animosity. Another exceptional performance from Streep should be no surprise. She is one of the few out there that throws everything she has at any role she can. Her long-suffering husband finds comfort in the shelves of books he holds around him. Similar details to this, that reflect on a character and the disparity between who they were before and who they now are, are infrequent, but thoroughly rewarding. It is a shame Wells does not utilise them more, for they are the cornerstones of his quality as a director.  

Perhaps it all depends on how you view your own family, but August: Osage County has no real reason for these demented, childish adults to act the way they do. Some moments reflect nicely on the real world. Broad enough to work for most audience members, yet still lacking the sting of the most formidable group-led dramas. If we are to have any indication of interest in these lives, then we must find ourselves with some modicum of interest in the reasoning behind the tension and uncomfortable displays. We are not given much comfort there, instead, we depend on Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch, whose roles are strong yet completely removed from any semblance of uniqueness in the realm of family-filled dramatics. 

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