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Saturday, April 5, 2014

'August: Osage County:' Okie Style 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'

Product Details
Like the well-written and nicely portrayed characters in "August: Osage County," which is being released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 8, 2014, this powerful film is not for sissies.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "August" provides a good sense of the film. However, the moderate presence of spoilers warrants an alert.

The fairly constant two hours of tears and recriminations are as honest a look at many American families as the 20009 Pulitzer Prize winning play on which it is based. The strong sense that you are watching a live-stage presentation contributes to the impact of the film.

The film, which earned Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for stars Meryl  Streep and Julia Roberts, centers around an above-average portrayal of a stereotypical long weekend of a family purging decades of resentments and secrets. It is difficult to imagine "Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?" scribe Edward Albee or master of this form Tennessee Williams doing any better with the story.

Additionally, the beautifully shot (but rather stark) Oklahoma landscape looks awesome in Blu-ray. This format additionally provides a good sense of why one character comments that she cannot understand why anyone would consider settling in such a geographically depressing area a good idea.

A particularly serious family crisis prompts Roberts' Barbara Weston (no relation to the cop of the same name that Kristy McNichol plays in the '80s sitcom "Empty Nest) to return to the stifling in every sense Oklahoma farmhouse where she grew up before escaping with her husband several years ago.

By this time, Streep's Violet Weston is an out-of-control alcoholic and prescription drug addict dealing with mouth cancer that continuing to smoke surely does not help. She falls just short of asking with whom she must engage in unlawful carnal knowledge to get a Vicodin.

Streep makes all this special by using her well-known talent to strike a good balance between not making Violet cartoonish while letting us know that she is on the joke regarding the outlandish elements of that character. 

Roberts does a decent job, and it is VERY nice to not see her in her flirty/nasty persona in which she mistreats a man and then smiles in a manner that communicates that she is so gorgeous and charming that that abuse is warranted. At the same time, she really does not get us to feel Barbara's pain.

Other characters in this middle-class version of "Dallas" set one state over from that city include Violet's overbearing and nagging sister Mattie Fae, whom portrayor Margo Martindale plays as a dramatic version of her character on the CBS sitcom "The Millers," Barbara's two sisters, and Mattie Fae's slacker son Little Charlie. Having Sherlock Holmes and Smaug actor Benedict Cumberbatch play Little Charlie is a treat for fanboys.

The overall theme of "August" supports the popular theory that everyone in your life ultimately disappoints you. It seems that known adultery is rampant and accepted and that any true happiness is out of reach. One spoiler is that "August" does not end with a tearful group hug and promise to meet every year.

One of the bigger secrets comes out near the end of the film and involves virtually every main character. Suffice it to say that the "ick factor" is quite high. 

Lighter moments include a story about how Violet commits serial birdslaughter and a comical wrestling match on the living room floor.

The extras include a segment with "August" playwright Tracy Letts, a "Making of" feature, and deleted scenes.

The epilog regarding this film that seems very true to the play on which it is based is that it is a very good tale presented by a cast that understands their characters but largely could act a little in a manner that is truer to the live-stage origins of the project.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "August" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.