August: Osage County (R)

Comedy 130 min. December 27, 2013
By Stephanie Zacharek
Without big truth-telling scenes, grand, great-lady, Meryl Streep-type actors would be out of work. Hell, Meryl Streep would be out of work. But for now, at least, August: Osage County, John Wells’s film adaptation of Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway hit, keeps her out of the bread line. Streep plays Vi Weston, the pill-gobbling matriarch of an Oklahoma plains family who can’t open her mouth without some version of her idea of the truth popping out: Women get uglier as they age; children who leave home to lead their own lives are ungrateful wretches; and so forth. In the big dinner-table scene — because that’s where the biggest truth bombs always get dropped — Vi, hopped up on pills, presides over her motley brood with cruel, woozy authority, her terrible mouth motoring on. Vi rules the roost, just as Streep rules the scene. No other performer — not Julia Roberts, not Chris Cooper, not Ewan McGregor — can get in her way. August: Osage County, bitterly funny in some places and numbingly earnest in others, is just too much Streep. But all is not lost. Some of her fellow actors are resourceful enough to reconstruct themselves after being obliterated. Roberts comes off as the most relaxed performer here, the one who keeps pulling the story back into the territory of movies. She has the face, and the presence, for it: bone structure that fills up the frame but doesn’t knock it out of joint, an easy way of laughing that can also betray depths of bitterness, and those impossibly liquid eyes. Unlike Streep, she makes it look easy.
John Wells Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard Tracy Letts George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler The Weinstein Company

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