Tuesday, 14 January 2014

August: Osage County

With a cast of luminaries and a screenplay of crackling dialogue, (adapted by Tracy Letts from his award-winning play,) family drama August: Osage County was surrounded by awards buzz while still in production.

Unfortunately, when released, the hype died down and the critical reviews piled up... I think understandably. It's a difficult film to describe, especially since I did have such a good time watching it.

The characters, (gathering for a family reunion, of sorts,) are stylised caricatures, yet somehow weirdly true to life.  And the things they say! I honestly don't think I've ever heard such incredible dialogue in a modern movie, with the rapid-fire delivery of perfect insults reminiscent of a forties screwball - except that here, the gloves are off and the swear jar's been smashed to pieces.

The ensemble cast inhabit their roles well, with several standout performances, (ironically enough most of the cast showing up the leading lady, whose flashy, overinflated performance has notched up another Oscar nod anyway, because, hey, it's Meryl Streep.) The characters' shifting alliances, tendency to the macabre and constant friction are a deliciously saucy blend.

It's just that this fine sauce covers a pretty rancid story. The frequent dramatics can only disguise the rapid downward descent in tone for so long, before it's a dark whirlpool dragging everyone down. Perhaps that was the point, or perhaps there are layers in the stage play missing in the film - but I found certain plot reveals repugnant in their unbelievability, and the obvious back-engineering to make various issues more palatable had the opposite effect.

Despite this, there's just something about August: Osage County that's worth a visit, whether it's the cathartic bliss of Julia Roberts losing her shit so spectacularly, visions of the sweltering heat of the Oklahoma plains, ("a spiritual affliction, like the Blues"), or the realisation there's no human on Earth who hasn't been screwed up by their parents.

Not sold, or looking for a dysfunctional family movie that's a little less Chinatown, and a little more Parenthood? Try recent classic Little Miss Sunshine, a Best Picture nominee and the winner of the 2007 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

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