"August: Osage County"

Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep are shown in a scene from “August: Osage County.”

A reader had written me a couple of weeks ago encouraging me to see “August: Osage County.”

“Truthfully, it’s a bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion but well worth the cringing,” she said.

The movie had been on my radar since I first heard about it. Led by the brilliant Meryl Streep, the movie is a dark look at one family and the connections within.

Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, “August” details the events following a family crisis that forces relatives to come together in a scene so twisted and traumatic I’m fairly certain that the word “dysfunctional” doesn’t do it justice.

Family can be tough. Tears and curses can flow as easily as laughter and hugs. Sometimes we might even believe that the blood running through our veins is the only thing keeping us joined at all.

I grew up in a close-knit family. My grandparents lived close, and we had family dinners each night. Whether watching the Vols, playing a card game or going on a trip, I was surrounded by love and open arms I knew would always be there.

As I grew up, that closeness became more fluid, as lives are lived, sometimes separately. But even after moving away, I always knew I had a home to come back to.

For the folks in “August,” home was the thing you ran away from quickly and without looking back.

Streep plays Vy Weston, who along with her husband Beverly raised a house full of daughters. Barbara, played by the savage Julia Roberts, married and headed for the hills. The more flaky Karen (Juliette Lewis) also left but still desperately seeks her mother’s approval. Last but not least, there was Ivy (Julianne Nicholson). She stayed local and took care of her parents, a mother addicted to pills and a father who drank just to try to deal with the life he’d built.

Vy is a hateful shrew of a woman, the kind you’d find it easy to hate, honestly. She belittles those around her, whether it be the nurse hired to help or her own children. No one was safe from her biting tongue. Watching the film, I couldn’t help but think her miserable existence was a result of her own actions and she deserved what she got.

Her daughters hadn’t fared much better. Barbara in an unhappy marriage, Karen willing to take any man who came along and Ivy even more desperate for someone to call her own.

“August” isn’t a happy movie. It’s not the film you go to and leave feeling good about yourself or the world around you. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because it hits just a little too close to home.

“August” is a no-holds-barred look at the dirt families try to cover up. The affairs, the fighting, the desperate measures people go to just to find an escape.

The main family unit is backed up by a fantastic supporting cast, featuring Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney and the ever-fascinating Benedict Cumberbatch.

As we watched each hateful barb or glare that could kill, I started thinking about my own family and my interactions with them and those around me. At face value, each assault seemed bred of pure hate. But I recognized them as something more: a defense mechanism.

I’m guilty of that kind of lashing out sometimes, rather than simply saying how I truly feel. I’ll be the first to admit life has changed and hardened me from the girl I used to be. And there was more than one time, I had to wipe my eyes as I watched the movie unfold.

It’s a brutal, gritty film. Without the blood and guts of an action movie.

However, it doesn’t minimize the suspense. Only heightens it.

Every relationship is fractured in some way. Some people chose to lash out, while others shove their pain into the closet with all the other skeletons they’d stowed there. 

It’s a harrowing experience. You aren’t likely to forget this Oscar-nominated gem anytime soon.

While it’s winding down its run, I’d recommend picking it up and taking a look at it. Sometime soon.

Everyone won’t enjoy it. However, I’m hopeful that everyone can appreciate this one and its honesty. 

Maybe you’ll be thankful to see this dysfunctional, tortured group come together for each other. Maybe you’ll be happy that your family isn’t this bad off.

Whatever your rationale, put this one on your To-See list.

Amanda Greever is the assistant managing editor of The Daily Times; she’ll also be contributing film reviews on a regular basis for Weekend. Contact her at amanda.greever@thedailytimes.com.

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