August: Osage County was originally a play written by John Wells. He also wrote the screenplay for the film as well, which is largely faithful to the original text. While doing research for Love & Tolerance, I watched the big dinner scene from this film and loved it. There's something about family meals at the table that makes extra juicy drama. Everyone's forced to interact. The scene was great, hilarious, and the cast sold it for me - Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney.....etc.
So when I finally got around to watching the entire film I was surprised by how bleak the story was. I didn't have the urge to lay down and die like the time I saw Melancholia (didn't make it all the way through); there's enough humour and great acting to rescue us from the pits of depression, but it was almost as if Wells had thought, 'now how can I add drama to this?' Three daughters (and their various partners/children) are forced to gather back at their family home in Oklahoma after their alcoholic father disappears, leaving their pill-popping cancer-ridden mother in the care of a newly hired housemaid. The eldest daughter is getting a divorce, the middle is in a relationship with her first cousin, the third is on to her n-teenth fiance. Oho! And there's more where that came from.
So I guess I found that a little ridiculous, but concessions can be made because it is basically a dramedy. The most compelling part was seeing the ripple effect of emotional abuse that poisons all the relationships the women have in the family. There's a scene where the matriarch, Violet (Streep) tells her daughters about her own mother and how she and her sister were treated as young children. It was an 'oh, that makes sense' moment as you reflect on the lives of Violet's daughters now. Broken marriages and strained relationships, eldest daughter Barbara (Roberts) has a teenage daughter that she's most likely screwing up too. They, in turn, perpetuate the abusive relationships with the ones around them. It's also worth noting that the daughters themselves don't keep in touch with each other.
You kind of feel sorry for the men in the film (even though they might not be completely blameless) it's almost like seeing victims of domestic violence but in this case it's an undercurrent that's subtler yet just as damaging.