Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, January 31, 2014

August: Osage County

When you think of most anything by Tennessee Williams or a film like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?" you duck right away because there's going to be a fight and it's not going to be pretty and no one is going to win--perhaps not even the audience.  To call the genre "domestic realism," doesn't quite cover the territory because "domestic" is blood kin to "domesticated," and believe me, there's nothing domesticated about "Wolff" or "A Streetcar Named Desire."

And there's even less domesticated, it seems, about August: Osage County, a film that doesn't begin to hide the hideous dysfunction that rules like a despot. The old man drinks, his wife scarfs pills, and basically they hate each other. It's an infernal mess with roots that back into poverty and horrifying family violence, putrid, despicable people let loose into motherhood and fatherhood when someone, somewhere should have just neutered the whole lot of them years before they became old enough to breed. 

The family lines these people create are yet another Oklahoma trail of tears because the sins of the fathers--and mothers--really count in Osage County, just as wickedly as they do in the Bible.

A father's suicide brings the whole scattered survivors back home to face a mother who's alone now, having lost a double-dare-you to her husband. There are occasional moments of lightness in this play, enough smiles to make you wonder whether the script might have done better if it had steered the ship of state in a different direction a bit more often. There are great characters in Osage County, but the great characters are not great people.  August: Osage County is as stark as its unadorned title.

You might be given to wonder why a script like this attracted the heavyweights it did--Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. But if you're man or woman enough to sit through the horror of totally disintegrated family relationships, you'll understand. There are few really, really powerful roles for women in cinema, but they're here in spades in Osage County. The characters are plain awful--they feed on hate and it's all earned because there's only one relationship that has much love, and that one features no women.

Sounds awful, I know. And it is.

But I loved it. 

I don't know that love is the right word really because love isn't what you feel when you're right there in the vortex of a familial holocaust. There are more than enough dark, dark secrets here, and nothing vomits them up as well as a poison homecoming.

You feel hammered when it's over. The only hope is a highway sign and the sense that the way to begin to live is to put it all in the rearview mirror.

It's interesting that the two quality feature films set on the identifiable territory of the Great Plains this year are both stark realism, interesting because so much in cinema right now isn't. Fantasies abound. Both Osage County and Nebraska feel as if they were shot by Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange, just another saga from the squalid days of the Great Depression. 

Maybe to people on both coasts, the Dust Bowl was our glory out here in fly-over country. Seems that way anyway.

I really did love Osage County, but if you decide to see it, just remember the dust is going to fly so thick it'll be all but impossible to breathe.

1 comment:

Clint W said...

What are the odds? About 3 clicks later in my feed reader after your insightful piece was another, this one from the New York Times, discussing family issues in the context of August: Osage County and Nebraska.

Write What You Know, Especially if It’s Difficult Family