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'August: Osage County': The film's dysfunctional family is over-the-top

'August' stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / December 25, 2013

'August: Osage County' stars Julianne Nicholson (l.), Meryl Streep (center), and Margo Martindale (r.).

Claire Folger/The Weinstein Company/AP

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Tracy Letts’ prizewinning play “August: Osage County," directed by John Wells and adapted by the playwright, has been turned into an all-star extravaganza, though at a markedly shorter length and with an unnecessary tacked-on (sort of) happy ending. Meryl Streep’s wily, shrewish Violet Weston, afflicted with jaw cancer, is gathered in her crumbling Oklahama mansion with her three daughters and assorted kinfolk for supper following the burial of her alcoholic poet husband (played by Sam Shepard in a cameo). The results are like a mash-up of plays by, among others, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Carson McCullers, Lillian Hellman and, well, Sam Shepard. It has some vitality, but I’ve rarely seen a movie with this much dysfunctional family overload. 

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Streep’s performance has been criticized for being too theatrical, but that’s off the mark: The character she’s playing is supposed to be theatrical. She’s a woman playing a part – the ravaged matriarch. Also on board is Julia Roberts in one of her better “serious” performances as Violet’s brutally straight-talking eldest daughter; Margo Martindale, always wonderful, as Violet’s younger sister Mattie Fae; and Chris Cooper as Mattie Fae's husband, a man who suffers and suffers. 

Benedict Cumberbach is miscast as their son, with a Southern accent that wobbles in and out. He and James Franco seem to be vying with each other for most performances by an actor in 2013. Grade: B (Rated R for language including sexual references, and for drug material.)

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