'Osage County' a must-see movie

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

December 26, 2013

WAUKESHA - Put “August: Osage County” near the top of your must-see movies list.

The plot of Tracy Letts’ screenplay, based on his 2008 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning drama, revolves around kinfolk in Oklahoma. The Westons are an extended family that makes TV’s Munsters seem normal. Both patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard) and matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) offer summations of their partners. “My wife, she takes pills; sometimes a good many,” the former says. Streep’s character calls her poet-professor husband “a world-class alcoholic for 50 years.”  

The couple has produced three children: Barbara (Julia Roberts), a younger version of her volcanic mother minus the pill popping; Karen (Juliette Lewis), who never shuts up and insists on regarding reality through rose-colored glasses; and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who remained behind with her aging parents but finally feels it’s time to leave and get married. Mother, daughters and their significant others, plus a few more relatives come together after Beverly goes missing in the intense heat of a Sooner State summer.  

As intimated, this coming together is a gathering of flawed folks. Addicted Violet delights in denigrating her Native American servant (Misty Upham). Often-married Steve Heidebrecht (Dermot Mulroney) drives his sports car as if auditioning for the Indy 500 and wants to be much more than an uncle to Barbara’s 14-year-old (Abigail Breslin). Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), has a comical snort for a laugh and is friendly to all - except the son she despises for no apparent reason.  

There are also pedantic Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor), Barbara’s estranged spouse who’s taken up with a younger woman; Mattie Fae’s browbeaten son (Benedict Cumberbatch), still  known as “Little Charles” as he approaches 40; and Charlie Aiken (Chris Cooper), Mattie Fae’s likable but imperceptive husband.   

To the credit of casting personnel, there’s considerable resemblance among the actors. These people look like they really could be family!  

“Osage County’s” ensemble cast is amazing - the film could be used to train actors. If you’re convinced Streep is America’s finest actress, this movie will reinforce your opinion. Roberts is outstanding as the film’s second banana and I took enormous delight in watching Cooper, Martindale, McGregor and Mulroney.  

One scene, featuring Cooper and Cumberbatch, movingly illustrates the father-and-son bond. Another, likely to be appreciated by anyone who’s encountered medical effrontery, has Roberts’ character pelting a pretentious doctor with medication vials he’s recklessly prescribed.  

At 130 minutes, “Osage County” is a marathon. But the time moves quickly, owing much to a script abounding in clever nuggets.  “Marriage is hard,” Barbara observes, with ex-hubby Bill immediately adding, “under any circumstances.” Violet offers, “My mama was a nasty, mean old lady. I suppose that’s where I get it from.”  

“Osage County,” a Milwaukee Film Festival entry in October, may have its flaws. Honestly, though, I couldn’t find any.                                                                     

August: Osage County’