August: Osage County suffers only from too-close similarity to an all-time classic, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, filmed by director Sidney Lumet with Ralph Richardson and Katharine Hepburn in 1962.
Again we have the story of a disharmonious family revealing its emotional strains during a short reunion, with startling revelations of character but no real plot, made notable by excellent writing and marvelous acting, with this time a touch of unnecessary melodrama toward the end.
August: Osage County is almost essential because of Meryl Streep’s Oscar-nominated role as an over-the-top character performed in a suitably over-the-top fashion, with Julia Roberts not quite as entertaining in a more restrained role as an embittered daughter who may or may not learn a lesson you may or may not admire, but with a whole cast of good-to-great performances by Margo Martindale as the daughter with the secret, Abigail Breslin as the one too young to be totally corrupted, Juliette Lewis as the only-suitably corrupted still-adolescent type, etc. The men get generally short-changed, though Chris Cooper has one good outburst and only Benedict Cumberbach is really betrayed out of his big scene by both writer Tracy Betts and director John Wells; poor Dermot Mulroney has virtually nothing to do, and Sam Shepard is mostly just a narrator. But it’s an impressive cast, and there are no weak spots in the acting.
The characters are not particularly attractive, and Streep is very close to a villain, though her backstory, which is talked about rather than shown, goes a ways to justify or at least explain her. But vindictiveness seems to be in the family blood, as if each character is too unhappy to allow happiness in anybody else. But these people are very human and never dull, and they might make you appreciative of your own relatives.