August: Osage County (2013)
Directed by: John Wells
Starring: Meryl Streep, Dermont Mulroney, Julia Roberts and so much more!
By Courtney Adkisson
August: Osage County is a gripping film and not in the sense of an adventure movie or something that is fun or horrifying. I’m talking drama. Real drama. There are so many twists and turns you have no idea where it’s going to end up kind of drama. I titled this article for this film, Dysfunctional, however that is not even a strong enough word to describe the plot of this film. I give the writer tons of credit for creating such a fantastic story arc in scriptwriting/screenplay format terms. One of many reasons I decided to search the film was the reviews. An Oscar nominated cast puts on a star performance just as they have in their previous films. This involves Meryl Streep playing the star Violet Weston, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, and so many more (please read the list on IMDb as well as read on). Just about everyone on the cast is famous. Even Benedict Cumberbatch of all people plays a small role of Charles.
Okay so back to the movie itself. August: Osage County is a different type of drama. There’s drugs, there’s psychiatric problems, there’s family drama at it’s worst. Everyone, and I mean everyone is affected by everyone’s decisions. I would love to critique specifically on how the movie flows in a more writers perspective because this has The Scriptwriters Bible format all over it. In the concepts of storytelling (specifically scriptwriting) there are a lot of guidelines that help us as filmmakers write for a successful film. Usually we go into something called the 3 Act Structure or the Hero’s Journey. The writer had successfully accomplished this throughout the film.
The first one is the exposition or the ordinary world sort of speak. This generally sets the mood, place and time in which we as the audience see immediately. In this case, we find out it’s in the life of Violet Weston. Her life is being addicted to drugs, living with only her husband and she seems to have no restraint on her opinions. As soon as Violet walks into the room, she’s basically the main central character. However, here’s the kicker with this writing idea. Violet is technically a protagonist in a plot, the main character but she acts like an antagonist. How is that for a twist? Can you tell if she’s a hero or a villain in the story?
Secondly there is a call for adventure/action. Well this happens when Violet’s husband, Beverly (played by Sam Shepard), walks out on her. That’s when Violet in her very narrow-minded, alone lifestyle brings in the rest of the dysfunctional family. This is where it gets interesting and where another protagonist, Barbara, played by Julia Roberts steps in with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). She now has to take action to go see her mother after her father walks out. This method of calling or refusing to take action drives the story forward. And trust me we all go forward as soon as someone makes a call to Barbara to come home to see her mother Violet.
This is when the family is set up for the crossing of the threshold. This is a whole deeper world that we face as the audience. We had a feeling that something was wrong with Violet’s life with Beverly but couldn’t really put our finger on exactly what was going on with the environment except maybe it’s the mouth cancer she has. Now there are two protagonists that stick out. Not only do we see Violets dark side, but we see everyone’s dark side, including Barbara. We find out that her husband, Bill, is not actually with her and they obviously don’t agree with Jean and her smoking habits. As it goes on it’s just one thing after another.
The writer was a genius by creating this conflict, leading to what is called the tests, allies and enemies part of a story arc. And believe me, there are many tests and enemies amongst each other. The tests and allies really shine when it comes to things such as Charles coming by to see Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), Barbara’s sister or even when the rebellious Karen (Juliette Lewis) who decided to bring a rather not so likeable newly made fiancée Steve (Dermot Mulroney) come by for her father’s funeral. You find out there are a lot of enemies among family. You’ll figure it out quickly when you watch the film. However, this type of step in the story arc really does push the drama and the viewer’s attention so much more because it creates a no turning back conflict.
This step is after the funeral when everyone meets. This creates the ordeal or the main crisis or even more dramatically the life or death scenario. What is the ordeal? Well mainly what is going to happen now? Especially with Violet. No one wants to take care of her that’s a given and what’s going to happen with the inheritance? Is there an inheritance? Who’s going to get it. All these questions are dealt with. And then there’s the real push in this particular conflict. Violet is using drugs again. So what does Barbara do? They fight. Driving to the next point of the story.
Reward or Commitment. The reward isn’t exactly a good one. Because in the fight, Barbara took away a Violet’s drugs, committing to possibly maybe even help her mother by getting rid of everything. However, this reward of taking care of her mother who is actually committed to getting better (seemingly) leads to another conflict.
See the whole mood of this film is what entices me. I’m not usually one to look for crazy dramatic films that make me stressed out on the edge of my seat. But this was a totally different unraveling storytelling. And before you those who have seen it think it was soap opera crazy, let me say this. It might have been crazy on the twists, but you will never forget the twists. That’s what is so brilliant about the story. It might be a story no one ever really wants to watch because of how realistic it is. But what the writer did was create a realistic scenario or multiple in this case and make it believable. I am still thinking about the plot and being like…what just happened?!
That’s what writers love about writing, to create that oh my god that just happened impact. I applaud the writer. Even though the twists were…well lack of a better term pretty dysfunctional. A 9 out of 10.