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ADVANCE: August: Osage County - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: August: Osage County
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Let's get real, here: August: Osage County is transparent Oscar bait, and when that happens to a movie, the Academy often looks in another direction. Of course, not all such movies star the likes of Meryl Streep. Then again, neither does Dermot Mulrony. That guy was in one of the worst movies I've seen in my life. What the hell is he doing in a movie with Meryl Streep?

In his defense, he's playing a relatively thankless part -- that's what. He's a fiancé brought home to the plains of Oklahoma by one of the Weston sisters, Karen (Juliet Lewis), when their father Beverly (Sam Shepard) drowns himself. This is a movie with a lot of high-octane drama, most of it very well delivered, except Juliet Lewis seems to be limiting her skill to varying the degree to which she parts her lips.

The other sisters are Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who has fallen in love with her cousin "Little Charles" (Benedict Cumberbatch); and most pertinently, Barbara (Julia Roberts), who is just beginning to realize how much like her own mean mother she is. Said mother is pill-addicted matriarch Violet, played by Meryl Streep in yet another part tailor made for an Oscar nomination. Barbara, for her part, has her own family problems: separated from husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), with 14-year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) caught in the middle.

Apparently to balance out Violet's pill addiction, Beverly was a longtime alcoholic. This is a recipe for a loudly dysfunctional family, to the degree that, somehow, the whole "kissing cousins" thing is ultimately downplayed. Little Charles's parents, Violet's sister Mattie Fae (a wonderful Margo Martindale) and Charles (Chris Cooper), have other things on their minds, not least of which is Charles's exasperation with how mean Mattie Fae is about Little Charles's apparent dim-wittedness.

Rounding out the cast of principals is Misty Upham as Johnna, the caretaker hired by Beverly just before his suicide. She's a Native American who provides for some blithely bigoted comments by Violet, in a few of the movie's more contrived moments. The script, adapted by Tracy Letts from his own original stage play, is tightly polished, yet as directed by John Wells (The Company Men), it gets a little Hollywood-movie manipulative. There's just a few too many scenes with swelling music that serves more as emotional cue than as story support.

When the music isn't swelling, though, there's a lot of shouting in this movie. It would not be fair, however, to call this just another "dysfunctional family" drama. Yes, there's been a lot of those, but one thing you can say about the Weston family, at least in the movie world, is they're unique. Sure, they're a little highly stacked with movie stars, a potential distraction that was missing from the original play cast. But Streep and Roberts make a believable mother and daughter, and it's easy to accept them as the characters they inhabit.

That's the bottom line, really: the Westons are a family you'd never want to endure spending time with in person, but they make for an enjoyable, darkly comic story. In spite of their many flaws, it's great fun to get to know these people, at least from the distance of the movie auditorium -- and for only a couple of hours.

Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor and Meryl Streep have the histrionics on tap in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.

Overall: B+

Opens Christmas Day.
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