“August: Osage County”, the Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, has been released as an Academy-Award nominated movie starring the incomparable Meryl Streep and an affecting Julia Roberts, together with a stunning supporting cast.
“August” opens in Osage County, Oklahoma, with an alcoholic academic, Beverly (the superb Sam Shephard), who likes to quote TS Eliot, interviewing a young Native American woman as a caregiver for Violet, his drug-addicted wife, who has cancer of the mouth. The cancer is most likely symbolic of Violet’s combative nature and the demons who are devouring her from within.
On a blistering hot day in August, Beverly sets out on his small boat and mysteriously goes missing. Beverly’s three adult daughters return to their family home, along with their husbands or lovers and their children, together with Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister, and her husband Charlie with their son Little Charlie (a grown man.) Secrets and lies surround Beverly’s disappearance, the major plot in “August: Osage County.”
The family’s dark past is painfully brought into the light, not only as it centers on the dying matriarch but also on the three daughters who have tried, and failed, to find loving relationships. Mattie Fae is as complicated as Violet. Revelations do not heal but simply damage further. Each character chooses to hold on to their own lies rather than face reality and all its consequences. The viewer is the silent witness to the family wars.
As in other roles in which Streep inhabits an unsympathetic character (think: “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” and “The Iron Lady)” her understanding of each role makes you understand how each of these characters became damaged as well as draconian. None of them are one-note stereotypes but layered, subtle, and original portrayals. Some critics disagree, but for me, I couldn’t take my eyes off of what I consider a shattering, unforgettable performance by Meryl Streep as a mother from hell. Please share whether you thought Streep overacted or got it just right.