"August: Osage County" is an embarrassment of (rhymes with riches).
The men in the film based on the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play for drama by Tulsa, Okla., native Tracey Letts (who also wrote the film's screenplay) are deserving of equal-opportunity insults.
"August: Osage County" is a film to relish. The "August: Osage County" sauce is hot. Oscar-nominated Julia Roberts, as Barbara Weston (best supporting actor, female), and Meryl Streep, as Barbara's mother, Violet Weston (best actor, female), lay it on thick.
Roberts and Streep, as Barbara and Violet Weston, respectively, not only chew the scenery, they chew out everyone in sight especially the actors playing their equally unlikeable relatives and spit them out with gusto.
"August: Osage County" takes place in the big Oklahoma home of Violet where the Weston family gathers following the disappearance of patriarch, Beverly (Sam Shepherd in a nice turn), a would-be poet and bonafide drunkard.
Director John Wells (director, "The Company Men," 2010; executive producer, TV's "ER" and "The West Wing") gives his actors free rein and they're not chicken. Roberts, Streep and the entire cast get down and dirty well, at least argumentative and foul-mouthed although they do wrestle Barbara to the floor during the dinner table scene.
Wells, collaborating with director of photography Adriano Goldman, lets us savor Oklahoma vistas, which include odd can-shaped bales of hay; glimpses a small-town main street where the rusty mechanical arm of an oil well pumps away in the middle of it; and makes us believe Julia Roberts as a good ole gal moving on down the highway behind the wheel of an old two-tone white and tan Ford 250 pickup.
Roberts is riveting. She's deglammed for the role, which plays against her often America's sweetheart casting.
Just when you wondered why Streep's nominated for yet another Oscar (a record-breaking 18; she's received three), you see this film and you realize why. As the cancer-battling matriarch, Streep is unflinching and yet nuanced, soul-baring and heart rending.
"August: Osage County" has an astounding ensemble.
Chris Cooper (Charlie Aiken) creates yet another of his indelible characters: here, a moral compass, a decent man, and long-suffering, steadfast husband.
Margo Martindale (Mattie Fae Aiken) is over-the-top fabulousness as his wife. She's unlikable until but that would be telling.
Julianne Nicholson (Ivy Weston), Violet's daughter, is remarkably subtle, strong, and yet, we learn, extremely vulnerable.
Juliette Lewis (Karen Weston), as the third daughter, conveys a pushy sexiness.
Demot Mulroney (Steve Huberbrecht), as Karen's high-stakes real estate, Ferrari-driving boyfriend, is smooth as a snake.
Benedict Cumberbatch (Little Charles Aiken) is superb as a sad, confused loner.
Ewan McGregor (Bill Fordham), Barbara Weston's husband, fades into his role comfortably like a pair of old jeans.
Abigail Breslin (Jean Fordham), is wonderful as the Fordhams' mixed-up teen daughter.
Misty Upham (Johnna Monevata) avoids cliché as a sensitive, caring and aware Native American.
Each of the "August" malcontents and august they most certainly are has a discreet charm that makes their foibles and failures endearing, and the film not only bearable, but celebratory a minor classic of American upper middle class dysfunctionalism not unlike the films, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf" (1966).
Since Letts wrote the screenplay, he's not putting words into the mouths of his characters. They're already full of, ahem, vinegar.
Letts has kept the script mostly intact. Many of the play's acute observations remain. For example: "The lies we tell to give us comfort."
The score by composer Gustavo Santaolalla is spare and note-perfect.
There are several intertwining story lines, which we'll let you discover on your own and discover them you should.
"August: Osage County" is a nice film to visit, but you wouldn't want to live in it.
"August: Osage County," MPAA rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for language including sexual references, and for drug material; Genre: Drama; Run time: 2 hrs., 1 min.; Distributed by The Weinstein Company.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "August: Osage County" was filmed on location in Bartlesville, Pawhuska and Lake Tenkiller State Park, Okla. "Lay Down Sally" by Eric Clapton is prominently heard on the soundtrack.
Box Office, Jan. 31: "Ride Along" cruised along at No. 1, three weeks in a row, with $12.3 million, a typically low figure on Super Bowl weekend, $92.9 million, three weeks;
2. "Frozen" (two Oscar nominations: animated film, song: "Let It Go"), $9.3 million, $360 million, 11 weeks; 3. "That Awkward Moment," $9 million, opening; 4. "The Nut Job," $7.6 million, $50.2 million, three weeks; 5. "Lone Survivor," $7.2 million, $104.8 million, six weeks; 6. "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," $5.4 million, $38.9 million, three weeks; 7. "Labor Day," $5.3 million, opening; 8. "American Hustle" (10 Oscar nominations: picture, director: David O. Russell, original screenplay: Russell, Eric Singer, actor male: Christian Bale, actor female: Amy Adams, supporting actor male: Bradley Cooper, supporting actor female: Jennifer Lawrence, and costume, production design, editing), $4.3 million, $133.6 million, eight weeks; 9. "The Wolf of Wall Street" (five Oscar nominations: picture, director: Martin Scorsese, screenplay: Terrence Winter, actor male: Leonard DiCaprio, supporting actor male: Jonah Hill), $3.5 million, $104 million, six weeks; 10. "I, Frankenstein," $3.5 million, $14.5 million, two weeks
Unreel, Feb. 4:
"The Lego Movie," PG: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman are among the voice talents in the animation feature. A Lego mini-figure tries to stop an evil Lego from gluing the universe together in the action comedy.
"The Monuments Men," PG-13: A World War II platoon must rescue art masterpieces from the Nazis. George Clooney directs himself, Cate Blanchette, Matt Damon and Bill Murray in the action film-biography based on a true story.
"Vampire Academy," PG-13: Daniel Waters ("Mean Girls") directs Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky and Sarah Hyland in the horror comedy based on Richelle Mead's best-selling novels.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: email@example.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.
Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes