They say the essence of drama is conflict. Maybe it's a conflict of interests, a clash of loyalties, a battle of wills between opposing personalities or philosophies, or just a straight up fight between the good guys and the bad guys. Whichever, a movie in which everybody gets along quite happily and nobody gets into an argument or starts a fight is liable to be pretty boring and uninteresting. So there has to be something: a difference of opinion, rivalry, simmering secrets, long suppressed emotions.... Fine. But there are worlds between human emotional conflict and simply bellowing insults and abuse at one another.
August: Osage County is quite definitely the latter: a film in which a family get together and shout bile and vitriol across the dinner table because hatred and cruelty is the only way these people know how to communicate. Here we have Meryl Streep as an alcoholic, pill popping old bat, fast approaching senility, whose three feisty/tiresome (delete as appropriate) daughters and assorted partners and children all descend on the house when granddad Sam Shepard disappears. It then turns out he's dead, so they all have to hang around a few more days for the funeral, and it's during this period that Meryl and eldest daughter Julia Roberts go for each other and in the process rip the whole family to pieces...
None of the targets of the rancid viciousness ever do the sensible thing and simply walk away, nor did anyone think to bring a firearm which would have stopped the infantile squabbling immediately. Frankly, if this was my house the people responsible would be shown the door in zero seconds flat, quashing the atrocious behaviour the moment it starts, but not here. These are horrible, horrible people: cruel, nasty, mean-spirited, profoundly unlovable even if they're family, and no reason is given as to why an audience should be expected to pay good money to spend any time with them at all.
It is impossible to deny that the film is well written and well played, with meaty roles for the cast to work with. In addition to Roberts and Streep, you get Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Cooper: performers it's always good to see evening movies which aren't necessarily very good. Maybe it would have worked in the theatre where it originated: theatre has often been described as "shouting of an evening" and there is a lot of shouting at the back of the stalls going on here. There's also incest, drug addiction, broken marriages, infidelity, racism, even a soupcon of paedophilia: in short an amalgam of the kind of subjects that win Oscars. Because this is one of those films that comes along every year when the studios think they should seen as Serious Artists examining and exploring the human condition, rather than just a bunch of money grubbing charlatans putting some shiny hunks in silly superhero costumes and having them beat each other around the head in 3D for a quarter of a billion dollars a time. Frankly, give me Captain America or The Mighty Thor, because those guys are at least fun to be around and that beats a shiny statuette on the mantelpiece any day of the week.
Shut up! No, you shut up! No, YOU shut up!!!