Important note: if you ever sit down with Julia Roberts for a nice fish lunch and she tells you to eat your fish, you best be doin’ what she says! Based on Tracy Letts’ 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning stage play (he also wrote the screenplay), this very dark comedic tale of a dysfunctional family getting together after a funeral comes to the screen with a powerhouse cast lead by 2014 Oscar nom’s Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.
It’s a damn hot August day in Osage County, Oklahoma and Beverly (yes, that’s a dude’s name) Weston (Sam Shepard), a once famous poet but now just an aging alcoholic, has hired a Native American caretaker (Misty Upham) to look after his ailing wife, Violet (Streep), who’s suffering from mouth cancer and is popping pain pills like Skittles. Helping out around the house is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), one of Violet’s daughters. She’s a plain girl that’s having a secret love affair she’s trying to keep mum about. After Beverly suddenly goes missing one afternoon, Violet’s martyr sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martingdale) and her caring husband, Charles (Chris Cooper) arrive to help out as well.
Word gets out about Dad’s disappearance and that brings out daughter #2, a very unhappy Barbara (Roberts) and her unruly vegan teenage daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin). This, unfortunately, also brings back her estranged husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor). This reunion naturally makes the very unhappy Barbara very, very, unhappy, if that were possible. As the families arrive, so does word about Beverly… seems he committed suicide down at the river. Not a great way to start a family reunion, huh?
The funeral reunites the rest of the family with daughter #3, free-spirited Karen (Juliette Lewis) and her fiance, Steve (Dermot Mulroney) a sleazy Florida businessman with a nice Ferrari and an eye for younger women. And rounding out the pack is 6’1 “Little Charles”, (Benedict Cumberbatch) Violet’s…um…nephew. He’s a little slow-witted and shy, but that’s not the half of it.
Anyway, the real fire is here Violet, the matriarch of the Weston family. This chain-smoking, caustic, cantankerous, puppet-master knows how to pull everyone’s strings simply by speaking the truth; unfiltered and with total disregard towards anyone’s personal feelings. And faster than you can say, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”, the funeral dinner scene comes up; one of the major highlights of this movie, with the camera as a fly on the wall and you, as the spectator, watching it in awe. You don’t want to hear…yet you do want to hear this woman, hopped up on a medicine cabinet full of drugs, lay into her family as she “just speaks the truth”. It’s unnervingly dark, yet stabbingly funny in a macabre sorta way. The rest pretend not to listen to her, trying to change subjects, but are forced to when Violet directs her venom-laced tongue at them, making this one uncomfortable dinner party.
Unhappy Barbara can’t take it anymore and snaps. Taking matters in her own hands, she rips the drugs from Mom’s hands and is going to get her sober, even it means hurting her. There are other family bombshell’s that are dropped here and there that I won’t give away, but suffice to say, they’re real doozies! After secrets are revealed, the family members disperse one by one and that leaves Mom alone with Ivy and Barbara in a wild and vicious verbal fish-eating scene that is another highlight of the movie.
The ending is heartbreaking and makes you wonder how any of these people, some of them so self-centered and blind to what’s going on in their lives, will ever survive. But that’s the brilliance of the writing. You really get invested into the characters, thanks to the simple, yet real personalities brought out by Letts. Directed by John Wells with a deft hand, you have an uneasy and sometimes shocking feeling watching these people go at each other. It feels all too real at times.
And then you have the actors. Streep and Roberts own this picture and give some of the best work of their careers. In fact, the whole cast is insanely good with nobody trying to upstage the other. You just sit back and watch actors “not act” for two hours. Another great scene to watch for is the “cowboy shoes” story that Streep tells. It’s just…amazing. There’s no doubt that since the movie is a major hit with critics and fans that the stage play will soon be resurrected on countless stages everywhere as well.
In 1989 Hollywood surprised all of us with a film about a dysfunctional family that wasn’t trying to murder each other or trade unbelievably nasty tirades at one another. This movie was by the golden team of Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, and Ron Howard. Based on their home life and own personal experiences, Ron Howard directed this wonderful slice of live with an epic cast of actors.
Multiple storylines surround the Buckman family and a series of their life complications. Gil Buckman (Steve Martin) is a worry-wart, neurotic salesman who doesn’t want to turn out like his father, Frank (Jason Robards). Gil’s wife, Karen (Mary Steenburgen), is expecting her fourth child as they both find out their oldest son has emotional problems and needs therapy…at age 10! Gil’s sister, Helen (Diane Weist), is a divorced bank manager whose ex-husband wants nothing to do with their children, Garry (Leaf Phoenix), who’s just entered puberty and likes to be alone in his room with his porno mag’s, and high-schooler Julie, (Martha Plimpton) who secrectly marries her sweetheart, Todd Higgins (Keanu Reeves), a novice race-car driver.
Throw into the mix Gil’s brother, Larry (Tom Hulce), the black sheep of the family, but is Frank’s favorite. Rather than settle into a career, Larry has drifted through life with crazy get-rich-quick schemes. He shows up one day, with his African-American son named “Cool”, and asking to borrow money from his father. But dad soon finds out that Larry needs the money to pay off his huge gambling debts, or else he’s dead! Instead of getting a real job and paying off the debt, Larry takes off for Chile, leaving Cool alone with Grandpa. Yeah, I know. What a loser!
And finally you have Gil’s other sister, Susan (Harley Kozak), a school teacher married to scientist, Nathan (Rick Moranis). They have one daughter, but Susan wants more children. Unfortunately, Nathan is more interested in other things. She eventually gets so frustrated that she leaves him, but Nathan eventually woos her back, in a memorable scene, by coming to one of her classes and serenading her, promising her he will try to change.
The movie shows the ups and downs and heartbreaks of all the families and how they cope with it. Nowhere as disturbing as “Osage County”, this comedy does play it for laughs, but has it’s moments of real personal reflection of how our lives are so fragile to begin with. Steve Martin has the best role here, playing a father for the first time and giving a masterful performance that he makes look so easy.
Watch for Ellen Shaw as the Buckman’s elderly grandmother giving her famous “roller coaster” speech to Martin. It’s puts a smile on your face every time.