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Arts and Entertainment

Meryl Streep Is Acid-Tongued Mother From Hell In 'August: Osage County'

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August: Osage County might make you appreciate your own family after watching how dysfunctional the Westons are in this film.

Based on the Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, the screen version, directed by John Wells (E.R., Shameless) touts an ensemble cast with household names like Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepherd, Benedict Cumberbatch and Margo Martingale. Although there are notably strong (and oftentimes funny) performances, this star-laden cast feels like a mish-mash at times.

In this story, we follow the Weston family (three generations of them), who reunite back at their now crumbling home in Pawhuska, Okla. during the middle of a sticky summer after Beverly (Shepard), the patriarch of the family dies. Although the rural location makes for beautiful photography of sprawling landscapes, it doesn't play such an important part illustrating the nature of small-town folks and life as let's say middle-America is to Alexander Payne's road-trip film Nebraska.

The main focus is on Streep's character Vi (short for Violet), a wickedly sharp-tongued woman who ironically is suffering from mouth cancer. She dons a jet-black wig to cover what's left of her hair, a byproduct of her chemotherapy. Vi spits vitriol at anyone in her way, whether it be her husband Beverly or even her three daughters: the jaded Barbara (Roberts), middle-sister Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and flighty Karen (Juliette Lewis). Barbara is dealing with an estranged husband (McGregor) and an angsty teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin), Ivy with a secret romance, and Karen with a sleazy new fiancé (Dermot Mulroney). And these family members have A LOT of things to say to each other and secrets to reveal.

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While Beverly, who is an accomplished poet, is a boozer, Vi is fond of popping pills in her mouth like candy. In Streep's powerhouse performance she goes from unpredictable to loopy, and at times it's exhausting. (This film runs about two hours long, so that's a lot of loud, sulfuric acid-laden insults.) But there are moments where she reveals her gentle, vulnerable side. Overall though, her character makes you hope you never marry into a family to gain a mother-in-law like her.

Barbara, in what may be Roberts' strongest performance, is one of the few who will tell her mother like it is when pushed to the last straw. There's a nearly half-hour intense supper scene with the family that escalates quickly as the screeching match between mother and daughter goes to extremes.

While it's great to see McGregor on screen, it's unfortunate his character as a cheating husband trying to make things right doesn't offer much more depth. Lewis' ditzy character is a joy to watch, and though Cumberbatch is endearing in his role as the slow, unemployed cousin, his attempt at an American accent falters in scenes.

Although it's quite a feat for any director to lead such a star-studded cast, the pacing between the scenes and editing could use work from the up-and-down showdowns between the characters.

What's most striking about August: Osage County is that it feels more like a character study rather than what actually happens in its plot. In actuality, the melodramatic events that take place aren't as interesting as the people involved in the story. It makes for a good study on how parents' actions can trickle down and affect their children. Some children distance themselves, some become emotionally stunted.

It's hard to empathize with Vi, and it gets to the point where it's hard to understand why her family gives her the time of day. But, as families go, that is the case at times. Dysfunctional or not, sometimes you can't help but go back home.

August: Osage County is out nationwide in theaters today. Here is the trailer for the film: