Published Jan 09, 2014August: Osage County may prove to be a bit much for the claustrophobic among you. Director John Wells (The Company Men) crams as many dramatic Southerners as he can into one house for a post-funeral dinner and forces you to just sit and watch in horror as, one by one, they each lose it on each other. Fortunately, the matriarch at the head of this dinner table is the almost always-amazing Meryl Streep, and she is surrounded by a plethora of talent, which includes Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch and more. Still, as the evening progresses and the tongues get nastier, you may find yourself looking for the right moment to make your exit.
Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prize-winning play gets the biggest of screen treatments one can imagine. When you pare down from a three-hour-plus play to a two-hour film though, subtlety and breathing room are the first things to go, even when the playwright himself is the man writing the screenplay. And this story needs its time to breathe. Streep plays Violet Weston, a mother of three (Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson), who has just been diagnosed with mouth cancer and whose husband (Sam Shepard) has just killed himself. Her entire family is in town for the funeral, reluctantly for the most part, and Violet takes advantage of this occasion to remind everyone just how lousy their lives are. She likes to call this game "truth telling" and, suffice it to say, these people aren't so keen on the truth, or at least Violet's interpretation of it.
Without the extra time to allow for the family secrets to simmer beforehand, Wells has to get straight to the point, using clear, concise signifiers to inform the audience of the bare minimum of information they need to get where all this animosity is coming from. The actors take it from there, and they take it as far as they can, but this darkly humorous text is often just reduced to melodrama, and leaves very little opportunity for anyone to catch their breath.