Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

January 7, 2014

CALLERI: Meryl Streep makes 'August' bearable

Niagara Gazette — Where would the movies be without Meryl Streep? She is our greatest living film actress. Streep is the best thing about “August: Osage County,” the main reason to see it.

The movie begins with Sam Shepard talking about his family, including his wife Violet. He establishes immediately the dark shadow that has descended on his home in the northeastern Oklahoma hinterlands. “My wife takes pills,” he says, “and I drink.”

Shepard plays a morose Beverly Weston, a successful poet, who is preparing himself for his final act. It must have been difficult being a male growing up with the name Beverly, but by the time his family’s anger and vitriol settles in, the fact that he has an unusual first name will seem like child’s play.

Violet is played with a wicked, albeit delicious, cruelty by Streep, as if she realized that the movie’s twin themes of loss and regret had to be made more alive to energize the audience. When she arrives on the screen, her steps are faltering, she seems bone tired, and her hair is gray and ragged. She has throat cancer. Very shortly, her husband will kill himself. He chooses to drown in a nearby lake. Perhaps he thought the water would wash away the sins that haunt the Weston family. They all seem successful and comfortable, but something deeper is amiss. Something more intangible. Something that makes them a very nasty group of mourners. Or maybe they just never really liked each other.

Beverly’s suicide sets in motion a familiar story. A family gathers to reminisce about the dearly departed, although with this crowd, “dearly” may not be the proper word. After the memorial service is over, the key family members go to the homestead for a meal. Violet has covered her thinning hair with a curly black wig. She is joined by an assemblage of characters straight out of Theater Drama 101.

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