If you’re unfamiliar with the work of playwright Tracy Letts (‘Bug’, ‘Killer Joe’), try imagining a cross between Tennessee Williams, Jerry Springer and Jeremy Clarkson. The 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winner ‘August: Osage County’ is textbook Letts: this star-studded loopy melodrama is brash, foul-mouthed, self-consciously offensive, intermittently insightful and has a gaping hole where its heart should be. That said, if you enjoy improbable plot twists, overcooked dialogue and Hollywood legends champing on scenery, this adaptation is a highly entertaining slice of American Gothic.
Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the shambolic, pill-popping matriarch of an old-school Oklahoma family who beckons her three daughters – angry Barbara (Julia Roberts), trashy Karen (Juliette Lewis) and obedient Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) – back home when their father goes missing. It’s not long before wounds are reopened, dark secrets come to light and everyone starts yelling at everyone else.
Streep is clearly having a whale of a time as the ultimate gone-to-seed grand-dame; manipulating her hapless family like chess pieces in some twisted game. But Roberts gives her all, too, bellowing expletives like a seasoned pro (‘Eat the fish, bitch!’). In fact, it’s tempting to see this as Roberts’s audition to be the next go-to gal for meaty older-lady roles when Meryl finally hangs up her spurs. This is by no means a good film – it’s far too crass and silly – but thanks to a remarkable cast, it is a very enjoyable one.