Monday, February 3, 2014

August: Osage County

Last week I snuck out and watched a movie. It was an "ice day" that turned out not to be so icy. I had cabin fever and the afternoon prices fit my budget, so I set off a two hour diversion. Friends had raved about this movie, so I was anxious to see it.

This movie was said to be in the comedy/drama genre. That begins to set expectations. Parts of the trailer seemed funny as well. Once you saw the movie you realize that the trailer was funny only when scenes were taken out of context.

The movie is based on a Pulitzer winning play of the same title, written by Tracy Lett. The cast was amazing. When you see names like Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Sam Sheppard, and Juliette Lewis, you know this has the potential to be something amazing.

I watched the movie in the hope that I would have an epiphany or moment of clarity, or at the very least; a really good sermon illustration. I did not find any of these.

The story revolves around a dysfunctional family named Weston, who live in the rural plains of Oklahoma. These people of the land are blessed with a cultured patriarch who is a poet, and some manner of wealth, even if that is in land alone. These advantages are not enough to offset the hurricane that is the inappropriately named Violet Weston.

Meryl Streep is at the top of her craft portraying the aging matriarch who is ill with cancer and deeply addicted to pain pills. Mrs. Streep has played powerful characters in the past few years and you always find a way to be terrified and drawn to them at the same time. Whether it was Amanda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada or Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, you find compassion for deeply flawed and even abusive characters.

Such compassion never came for me in this film. In many ways she was a victim. We find out about her husband's unfaithfulness and secrets the family has tried in vain to keep from her. One wonders if the pain inflicted caused Violet to become a monster or were the wounds self inflicted.

There is a scene in the home after a funeral, that is both horrifying and hysterical, The problem is it seemed almost irreverent to laugh. It is here when all the chaos comes into full focus. I kept wondering when someone would stand up to Violet and bring an end to this ordeal that felt claustrophobic and unbearable. It is put to an end by eldest daughter, Barbara Weston, portrayed by Julia Roberts. The problem is that in bringing the scenario to an end she looks like the mirror image of the one she abhors. Violet has spawned her own nemesis and she is as scary as the original.

Woven through this narrative is the story of an extended family. You have a daughter who is beautiful but naive and has failed at love countless times. Her fiancé is a drug addict who personifies mid life crisis. Oh yes, he is also a pedophile. The sister is almost as evil as Violet. There is almost no redeeming quality in her at all. Space does not allow us to even scratch the surface of Julia Robert's on screen husband and daughter,

There were two characters in the movie that were captivating. There is one of Violet's daughters, who stayed in Oklahoma and took care of her mother. Ironically, Violet's worst venom is saved for the child who took care of her. She is portrayed by Julianne Nicholson. This daughter is socially awkward and shy and secretive, and wonderfully compassionate. When she is on screen you are drawn to her like a magnet. You rejoice when she is happy and hurt when she is wounded.

The best performance of the movie comes from Chris Cooper. He plays the role of Violet's brother in law. He is the only voice on sanity in this movie. His character is one where you wonder what would he be like in a functional family. His nuanced performance stands is sharp relief to the manic performance of Meryl Streep.

There is another member of the cast that is angelic in her role. She is the house keeper. She watches over this family. ignores the abuse and in the end is left to try and put together the shattered pieces. The one who has the least invested ends up paying a heavy toll.

So what can we say about this movie? Would I go see it again? Should you go see it?

Before spending your money, realize these things. The language is coarse. The action is intense. The dysfunction is unyielding. This is "The War of the Roses" comedy, not a "When Harry met Sally" comedy. The performances by actresses and actors are worth the price of admission. There is something to say about appreciating art for art's sake. Oh yeah...this is not a date movie.

I will go see it again. I am in hopes that I missed something.

My major issue with this movie is simply this; there is no redemption. There is no catharsis. There is no growth or change or development or deeper understanding. There is no hope.

I don't like movies that give no hope. I thought I liked edgy movies. This one left me wanting something more. Maybe I will find that the second time around.

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