August: Osage County Review
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The holidays are a time of family togetherness—sometimes, a little too much family togetherness. But if you think your family’s occasional bickering and backstabbing and general dysfunction are bad, then you’ll be in for a big surprise when you check out August: Osage County, the latest adaptation by award-winning playwright Tracy Letts.

August: Osage County tells the story of the Weston family—three generations of tough, resilient (and some might say bossy) women. Though the family’s matriarch, Violet (Meryl Streep), has always had a problem with pills, her addictions have gotten completely out of hand since she was diagnosed with mouth cancer.

When Violet’s husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard), goes missing, their three daughters are called home to support their struggling mother—but their impromptu family reunion isn’t exactly a pleasant one, as old hurts and long-held secrets start rearing their ugly heads.

August: Osage County isn’t a holiday movie, but it could just as well be. After all, this is the time of year when we all get together with our crazy uncles and spoiled siblings—and unless everyone’s able to swallow the snarky criticisms and old hurts right along with that big holiday feast, those holiday get-togethers can quickly turn into childish bickering or maybe even all-out war. And that’s exactly what happens to the Westons. This is one complicated, messed-up bunch—and, from the beginning, everyone’s on edge. Almost everyone seated around the table is covering up some kind of secret—and as those secrets begin coming out, everything starts to unravel.

What plays out, then, is tragic and funny and completely mesmerizing. Though the set-up is pretty bleak, the film is loaded with comedy so dark and astonishing that it’ll shock the laughter right out of you.

Really, though, it should be next to impossible to sit through this foray into family dysfunction—because the characters are all terrible people. They’re harsh and brutal. They lie and cheat. And they’re entirely self-absorbed. Only Benedict Cumberbatch’s mild-mannered Little Charles comes off as sweet and thoughtful—but he’s got one doozy of a secret to make up for it.

Still, the remarkable ensemble cast manages to turn this simple story into something strangely captivating. Violet may be an appalling wife and mother and a horrible human being in general, but Streep’s bold and brash performance makes her absolutely fascinating. And while Julia Roberts’s Barbara seems to be heading down the same path as her mother, her subtler, more emotional performance will leave you feeling that, deep down, she means well—she just doesn’t know any better.

August: Osage County isn’t a light-hearted holiday comedy. The characters are detestable, the story is unsettling, and the humor is pitch black. It takes a dark and twisted sense of humor to appreciate it, but the talented cast still makes this horrible family worth visiting this holiday season.

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