Scene & Heard: August big on star power, laughs, short on substance

august-osage-county-AOC-poster_final1_rgb
The Weinstein Company’s “August: Osage County” opened in select cities on Christmas Day. It opens everywhere Friday, Jan. 10.

More often than not when you sit down to review a movie, it’s within a day or two of first watching the film in question. The scenes are fresh in your mind, the characters vivid, the emotions raw.

Sometimes, however, you get the chance to watch a movie and really sit back and reflect on it. Such is the case with “August: Osage County,” which opens today.

I had the chance to take the film in last October on the closing night of the Twin Cities Film Fest.

ad I sat down and wrote my review that night, I would’ve raved about the cast, talked about how much I laughed, how I felt sympathy and pity for the characters and I probably would’ve proclaimed it would be some sort of travesty if it didn’t win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars.

But now looking back, I can tell you I remember laughing hysterically at points, but even with my notes I can’t tell you why. I remember liking some characters more than others, but have no real justification for it. And, quite frankly, I don’t think Oscar gold

Adapted for the screen by Tracy Letts, who won a Tony Award for his play of the same name, “August” tells the story of the Weston sisters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who return home in search of their father, Beverly (Sam Shepherd), who has gone missing. Overseeing the operation on the home front is their overbearing, foul-mouthed, pill-popping mother, Violet (Meryl Streep).

While dealing with Beverly’s disappearance and Violet’s battles with addiction and disease, we come to find out that each sister, their significant others, their children and extended family members have their own baggage they’re dealing with – and none of it is good.

You name the vice or social taboo and chances are it appears in “August” … virtually all of the seven deadly sins are covered.

However, the biggest sin – at least in my opinion – is the waste of an incredibly talented cast (which also includes Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch) on a story that’s too busy, too full and too in-depth to possibly fit into the two-hour running time.

Only two characters are given enough screen time to develop. Not surprisingly, those two characters are the ones portrayed by Streep and Roberts.

But aside from performances that led to Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe nominations for the aforementioned duo (along with one draw-dropping scene that’s certain to shock), there’s not much here that stands out.

I can see how “August” worked as a play, how it could work as a TV mini-series or as a one-season, hour-long TV show, but as a feature film it just doesn’t work without feeling rushed and undeveloped.

“August” is worth a watch if you’re not fooled by the promise of “ensemble cast” – it’s a two-woman show – and if you’re not looking for something that sticks with you for more than a few hours.

Rating: ★ ★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★★)

Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. He can be reached at moviesjared@gmail.com or facebook.com/jaredmovies.