Catty claws come unsheathed in August: Osage County, the moment Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) verbally lashes out at her daughters. She calls Ivy a lesbian and questions if a younger woman was involved in Barbara’s divorce, stating that women don’t grow prettier as they aged.

It’s hard to blame her though. With thinning hair and insurmountable pain from oral cancer, Violet is dealt another blow when her husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard) who’s endured her all this while, goes missing. It’s time to recall her brood to keep her from going over the edge of depression.

Except mother trades places with child, when Violet resorts to smoking and drugs to numb the pain only to be chided by her eldest daughter, Barbara (Julia Roberts) who finally returns home to the mess.

And you can bet on a lot more oestrogen and drama when Ivy, the mysterious and more reserved of the 3 Weston girls rejoins the nest with the glitzy and bubblegum-headed youngest Karen, in the small home of Osage County, Oklahoma.

With an emotional wreck for a mother who spits what she feels as a form of “truth telling”, the girls take turns to bear the brunt of her assaults. “This isn’t a family, this is carnage in motion,” admits Violet.

If struggling to cope with their deranged mother who relies on drugs from her doctor wasn’t hard enough, they each have their own battles to fight.

Barbara is desperately hanging on to her own marriage with Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor and barely handling her 14-year-old daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin) who smokes.

Whether she realizes or admits it, Barbara bears a striking resemblance to her mother. Barbara’s estranged relationship with her daughter is a reflection of her own broken bond with Violet, where they never fail to hurl verbal abuses, complete with F-bombs.

Things go too far when Barbara pounces on her mother, who refuses to surrender her pills, and starts attacking her in a catfight that makes for the most memorable scene.

Contributing to some funny antics is Karen, the ‘typical dumb blonde’ (except she’s a redhead) who shoots her mouth off without second thought. “That’s one thing about Mom and Dad, you gotta tip your hat to anybody who could stay married that long,” she’ll say, only to be reminded that her father has gone missing precisely because he doesn’t want to stay with her mom.

She’s struggling to find the right man herself, but settles for Steve (Dermot Mulroney), a wealthy, weed-smoking playboy who pretends to love her. Refusing to admit her fiancé is anything less than perfect, she continues to convince herself she’s blissful, a relatable experience to many who are afraid of a second heartbreak.

Over the course of 2 hours, the complications of the Weston family slowly reveal a dark family secret that ties them together in the end. You’ll be left wondering if any family can actually survive such an ordeal.

Perhaps, the sweetest of the clan are Ivy and ‘Little’ Charles Aiken (Benedict Cumberbatch), who despite being cousins, hope to give their incestuous relationship a go. It’s a taboo subject, no doubt, but the lovebirds accept each other as they are, offering some warmth to the storyline.

An argument between Barbara and Violet sparks even over the calling of Johnna (Misty Upham) the caretaker a Native American, to which Violet cheekily says, “Let’s just call the dinosaurs Native Americans while we’re at it.”

Sadly, that’s about all you’ll get to see of Upham. The audience won’t be quite sure whether to feel sorry for her for getting unexpectedly thrown into the family business or blaming her for not helping to mend it.

Compared to the emotionally complex movie Little Miss Sunshine that Breslin was part of – which brought viewers on a journey of exploring the ups and downs with another dysfunctional family – August: Osage County misses the mark in resonating with viewers as it focuses more on brutal assaults exchanged between the Westons.

The 2-hour runtime, bereft of car chases, explosions or anything that will get the adrenalin pumping, seems endless and interminably depressing, and it’s little comfort to know that the original play from which the movie derives from ran for 3 hours. John Wells who’s famous for producing and writing for ER (popular medical series) did establish the setting of the movie well, but what’s missing is the lack of empathy for the characters. There was a tad too many of assaults being said out to make the movie heartfelt.

That being said, Streep, who’s had 18 nominations for the Oscar, gives an effortless portrayal as the Weston matriarch. The scene whereby she’s dancing to an old, lively song upon receiving the news of Beverly’s whereabouts but grappling with it the next shows viewers the psychotic woman flipping from insanity to sanity and back.

A-lister Roberts will be long remembered for the surprising trail of vulgarities you often won’t hear from America’s Sweethearts (a film she played as well) otherwise, and the impeccable mix of humor and seriousness she oozes. Both were, not surprisingly, nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for this year’s Oscars.

What’ll get viewers rolling in the aisles is Barbara’s grimly repeated chants of “Eat the fish, bitch!” in the hope of stopping Ivy from spilling the beans of her relationship with ‘Little’ Charles Aiken to their mother. Watch her utter it too many times in all seriousness (almost like a rap song) and you’ll be gripping at your sides for sure.

Sadly, the plot is too pitiful and tiresome, with emotionally heavy subjects such as substance abuse, incest, suicide and cheating scandals thrown in together. Most importantly, the big question of how the family’s going to pick up the shards after all the tribulations and eventually move on, remains unanswered.

But if there’s 1 benefit to watching this movie, it’s how grateful you’ll be that your own family that you’re always whining about isn’t half as messed up as this is.

Rating: 3/5
Release date: Jan 23
Runtime: 121 minutes
Language: English
Censorship rating: NC16
Genre: Comedy
Director: John Wells
Main actors: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard


Photos courtesy of,,,,