Kulani Nkuna
2 minute read
14 Mar 2014
6:20 am

August: Osage County makes dysfunctional beautiful

Kulani Nkuna

Family dysfunction has never seemed so beautiful as it does in August: Osage County.

Still of Juliette Lewis and Meryl Streep in August: Osage County (2013)

The performances radiate from the screen in this dark masterpiece about the disconnectedness of a family. Based on a play of the same name by Tracey Letts, who also adapted the piece for the screen, the film was nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Picture category, Best Actress In A Leading Role category (for Meryl Streep) and a Best Actress in A Supporting Role (for Julia Roberts). But those highlights do not even begin to properly illustrate the richness of the story and the work by the entire ensemble cast.

The story adds a new perspective to the oft-told tale of dealing with a life that hasn’t gone according to plan. Every character is coloured with deep imperfections that, if they are not careful, affect their functionality. These afflictions are dark and damning and are largely inflicted by their parents on their kids, and the cycle continues when the children become adults themselves.

The cast of 'August: Osage County' around the dinner table.

The cast of ‘August: Osage County’ around the dinner table.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol and even incest are some of the difficult issues tackled in this film as the characters try to grapple with their inadequacies. Streep is in scintillating form as the prescription drug-addled matriarch of the family. Her performance was only bettered, in Oscar terms, by Cate Blanchett (who also played a substance-abusing lunatic) in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.

The mannerism and phrasings of the American South are richly woven into Lett’s text, adding another layer to the characters’ philosophical understanding of their lives and world.

Roberts holds it all together for the family and in her performance appropriately relays the angst that is constantly troubling her character.

Ultimately, director John Wells manages to capture the beauty that lies beneath a sometimes terrible reality. He concentrates the story around the childhood home of the family, which has recently reunited due to the death of their father and husband.

The setting alone is rich with memories –mostly unpleasant – and so is an unsurprising setting for the conflict and resentment that arises in the family members. And amid all this misfortune, a magnificent story of love unravels.