By Alynda Wheat Paul Chi
January 20, 2014 12:00 PM


Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor | R |


August: Osage County barely succeeds as a serious family drama. So don’t take this film on its own terms. Kick off the “prestige picture” shackles! Reject respectability! It’s tons more fun to just accept this hoot and a holler for the high camp that it is.

The key is not to get tripped up by August’s pedigree (it’s based on Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play) or the glitziness of its cast, who are uniformly excellent as a horrid clan gathering for a funeral. Streep is in full roar as recently widowed Violet Weston, delivering a performance steeped in bile and bitterness. Roberts is at her best as oldest daughter Barbara, who may yet inherit her mother’s gift for verbal laceration. Everyone is a mess, though, from Barbara’s distant husband, Bill (McGregor), to dopey cousin Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), to secret-keeping aunt Mattie Fae, played by the exquisite Martindale. (She’s sitting on a whopper of a family scandal.)

But August doesn’t jell the way a serious film should, settling for booming operatic numbers, iffy directorial choices and characters we’ll never fully understand, however entertaining they are. All you can do is settle in, pass the popcorn and – when the insults fly – duck.


Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas| R |


Charles Dickens’s spiciest story may be the one he never told: that of his affair with 18-year-old Nelly Ternan. Fiennes directs himself to a gutsy take on the literary lion’s behaving badly, while Jones is affectingly vulnerable as Ternan, trapped between love and Victorian propriety. The film’s boldest stroke, though, is sympathizing not with Dickens but with his jilted wife, Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), mother of his 10 kids. Nelly may be his secret, but his wife is the one who’s truly invisible.