<em>August: Osage County</em>

August: Osage County

Review: August: Osage County

Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Julianne Nicholson star in a film written by Tracy Letts and directed by John Wells.

For all its hard-edged, sniper-fire comic moments and general hot-and-cold running cynicism, August: Osage County perhaps serves as an odd, left-handed “feel good” confection among the Christmas-holiday-season release harvest. It may manage to make our own more mildly dysfunctional families seem tame by comparison. In the alternately crude and learned Oklahoman Weston family, the familial sludge and ugly secrets run deep and wide. With TV director John Wells’s uneven screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’s Tennessee Williams-esque stage play, the more we learn and are teasingly fed about strange relations, going back to the ghosts of earlier generations and within the present brood, the more we cringe, laugh (uncomfortably), and ultimately cry out “enough already.”

But even as the sometimes too over-the-top film drags on and tests our patience, the continuing saving grace comes in the form of one Meryl Streep, again confirming our suspicions that she may be the reigning queen of living American film actresses. We expect Streep to dazzle, but she does so from a sneak-attack direction here, in a type of role we’re unaccustomed to seeing her in — a bewigged, extra-salty, cynical, prescription-pill-fueled matriarchal tyrant with little kind to say about any of her kin: a dark reckoning force in the vein of Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Now, that’s entertainment!

Narratively, the story deals with compressed circumstances. Dad (Sam Shepard), an alcoholic former poet and professor, has disappeared again, possibly for good, and mom (Streep) is in an especially bleak and foul demeanor. Mouth cancer (ironically, her husband says) and pharmaceutical overload, adding to her own natural rancor and acidic wit, lead her to attack her daughters (Julia Roberts, in rare, f-bombing form; mild-mannered Julianne Nicholson; and a tart Juliette Lewis) and anyone else within striking distance.

In effect, August: Osage County is one of two bracing war films released in town last week, alongside Lone Survivor — one takes place in an Oklahoman family home, the other in an Afghanistan outback. August comes equipped with black and brackish humor to lighten the load, but its tragedy factor is ever-ready to bubble up from just below the surfaces.

For showtimes, check the Independent's movie listings, here.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Vampire Weekend Plays for 805Undocufund This Weekend

Will match up to $10,000 in donations for Libbey Bowl concert.

Immigration Raids Chill Santa Barbara County Community

A quiet has settled over Old Town Goleta after at least five people were grabbed by ICE ...

Seasoned Bandit’ Said to Suffer the ‘Lottery Curse’

Tip led to bank robber James Hayes, who'd hit four Santa Barbara County banks, and six others.

FEMA Reveals New Map for Montecito, Carpinteria Valley

Property owners wishing to rebuild must avoid flooding from 100-year storms.

Alleged Apple Thief Pursued

Man accused of using a stolen credit card to buy thousands of dollars' worth of computer goods.