A comedy that begins with a suicide? After the disappearance, death and funeral of her husband, pill-poppin’, chemo-weakened matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) is surrounded by her extended family: a gene pool of relationship struggles, teenage vegetarianism and general dysfunction.
Like Polanski’s Carnage, August: Osage County struggles to establish a visual aesthetic that feels separate from its roots on the stage, but it’s compensated for with some vicious dialogue. Looking scarily like Sean Penn in This Must Be The Place, Streep delivers Violet’s acid-tongued putdowns with aplomb as each victim wilts or explodes under the pressure.
The rest of the cast excels: a rambunctious Julia Roberts and a robust Chris Cooper representing the best of a stellar ensemble. Indeed, the only notable weakness is the blandly written Bill, which really limits the possibilities for Ewan McGregor to bring substance to the character.
With the screenplay rampaging through killer one-liners and – eventually – some truly surprising twists, its emotional resonance isn’t quite equal. A certain amount of poignancy is established between the three disparate and largely estranged sisters (especially with the underlying suggestion that they’ll never quite escape from their troubles), but it’s hard to convey true tenderness when an “oh no she didn’t!” zinger is lurking just around the corner.