Review: August: Osage County (The Family Big House)

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Based on the Tracy Letts play of the same name, August: Osage County is a remarkably miserable family drama wrapped in the kind of high pedigree performances the Actor’s Studio is sure to tongue bathe. Meryl Streep plays the foul-mouthed matriarch, stoned on prescriptions and suffering from a mouth cancer her alcoholic husband (Sam Shepard) calls “a punch line.” Their days would resemble a senior version of Valley of the Dolls if it had even a smidge of desiccated glamor (a la Sunset Boulevard) or really any justification for the addictions on display—but such moralizations are void here. When Shepard’s poet and esteemed professor hires his wife a housekeeper (Misty Upham) and leaves without notice, the entire family comes out; presumably to support each other but such business seems impossible. The group only knows how to be together through strife so we’re technically seeing them in their element, and they desperately hate their element.

Direction by TV’s John Wells (Shameless, West Wing) is stuck and dowdy and before you say that’s valid for a chamber play, I disagree. It’s chained to the family homestead in a way as codependent as the characters and the moments when the film leaves the house inspire no more interest. As the film is obviously a giant acting exercise, its biggest issue appears to be casting. It was thrilling to see Julianne Nicholson again, and Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper are always great, but what are Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch doing here? It’s unseating to watch Julia Roberts outperform Meryl Streep (I appear to be the only saying that), but it’s perhaps the only pleasure in this slog down someone else’s ugly memory lane. Maybe it's more fun if you're a fan of cage matches.

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