Review: August, Osage County

Wednesday was $5 day at my local theater, so after watching Frozen, I set out to give myself emotional whiplash by heading straight into August: Osage County.

Okay, that’s a lie.  I set out to watch Benedict Cumberbatch in one of his five movie projects released in 2013, and perhaps to see what Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan MacGregor, et al. brought to it.  The emotional whiplash was just a side effect.

August is the time of year, Osage county in northern Oklahoma the place.  Plot summary: author Beverly Weston disappears from his home (and, incidentally, puzzles me, because who names their son Beverly?  I bet he had a brother named Sue Not-Appearing-In-This-Film).  His family – 3 daughters, a sister-in-law, and their respective spouses/children – come home to empathize with his wife Violet while waiting for him to turn up, and are thus ideally placed for the funeral when he turns up drowned.  And then, the players having congregated on the board, family dynamics drive each person hither and yon again.

At first, I thought “This is one of the realest stories I have seen in a while.” The rural Oklahoma setting, for one, reminds me of my familial home down in southern Illinois in so many ways. It has the flat land, the oil wells, the unforgiving heat and the shimmer of the air, the small town nearby, even the left turn from the highway onto the dirt road heading home. The cars they drive, the style and decoration of the house, the casserole dishes: it all felt familiar, more familiar than I’ve seen in a film before.

You may be focusing on the knock-down brawl going on, but I am looking at those wooden pillars at the sides of the room. My grandparents’ house has pillars just like that!

Then there’s Meryl Streep as Violet Weston.  She’s phenomenal.  She stumbles in as Beverly interviews a young woman, Johnna, to be housekeeper.  “You an injun?” Violet asks, with the casual racism of the woman too old to care about political correctness (or too apathetic until she can attack someone else for alluding to childhood games of “cowboys and Indians”).  The way her voice alternately sweetens and sharpens as she asks Johnna about herself, addresses her husband, and gives some details about herself and her mouth cancer – I have seen that before, mostly in my grandmother as her own dementia began to progress.

Bev disappears.  The girls come home from Colorado and Miami, everyone bemoans the heat, the sheriff arrives with news and a body that needs to be identified, the funeral is followed by the most painful funeral lunch you ever saw.  Violet’s speech, her swift changes of mood, her not-always-appropriate anecdotes, her occasional lapses into bitterness over her children and what she sacrificed for them – these all prompt the other characters to react accordingly, also true-to-life.

Then it all goes a bit…screwy.  No, more than a bit.  The Weston family is far more dysfunctional than mine: there’s more divorce, the lone teenager is angstier (shame she doesn’t have siblings or cousins), there’s such distance between everyone…not to mention suicide, a touch of drug use (prescription and otherwise), and a soupçon of accidental incest.  Possibly more than a soupcon, actually.  There’s also far less religious observance – you can tell by the awkwardness of the mealtime prayer – which helps explain why no one ever seems to have heard of forgiving, forgetting, or wishing for another’s good more than one’s own.  Toss that all in a room together, and it becomes one big powder keg.

Here’s where the post-Frozen whiplash gets bad: whereas Anna trusts her sister Elsa unstintingly despite years of isolation (and that one time with the ice spikes), and Elsa protects Anna the best she can after conquering her fears, the Weston ladies are, as Ivy puts it, “Just people accidentally connected by genetics.”  You can’t pick your family, it says, though Charles Aiken (Bev and Violet’s brother-in-law) reminds everyone in word and deed that you can choose how to regard your family.

That’s more or less the upshot of it.  Violet and her oldest daughter, Barbara, might provide grim amusement with their increasingly vicious, obscene, and histrionic hollering, but I reckon they’re more important as an all-too-realistic cautionary tale.  I’ve read that Tracy Letts, the playwright and screenplay writer, is preoccupied with the question of “whether it’s ever possible to overcome the dysfunction passed down through generations.”  Of course, yes, it’s possible – but not alone. You need grace for that.  And grace, like Sue, is not appearing in this film.

Continue reading

Oh My Gosh. There are FISH in my hair!

This, is an addendum.

My brother #3 should be hired as the creative director onto this blog.

If only we had the funds with which to hire him.

In the midst of last night’s insomnia induced rambling on the joys of homecoming, he wandered downstairs and proceeded to watch me slowly type out the blurry thoughts that tried to form a post.

He patted my arm, and then gently informed me that I needed a more random title.

Something eye-catching, and strange.

Off the top of his head, he suggested, “OMG, there are FISH in my hair!”

Thus, this post is dedicated to him.

And it begs the question:

How much of an effect DOES a title have on the interest drummed up in a article?

Sojourners in a Familiar Land

I got up early this morning.

5:30AM, to be exact. Which is four and a half hours earlier than I like to awake.

But I had faith that it would be worth the trouble.

Then I boarded a plane and took my place between two slightly odd people engrossed in their iPads. The lady to my right was reading a “supernatural mystery romance”, as she told me. The man to my left was more secretive, but from peering over his lap I deduced that his reading material was either a historical proof of Christ’s existence, or a refutation of a Neo-Platonist interpretation of Scripture.

And I, wedged between them, clutched my worn paperback of Dorothy Sayers and pretended that I was not resisting sleep.

But I held out the hope that such suffering would not go unrewarded.

My hopes were not unfounded:

My family greeted me when I landed.

Thus, today has been filled with wonderful, beautiful moments.

  • Incessant hugs

Little sisters are amazing. They not only decorated the house for my homecoming, but they proceeded to clamp onto me and make sure I knew how much I was missed. We spent two and half hours frolicking in the pool before the employed siblings began to trickle home.

  • Rain Dancing

No sooner were we dry from the pool, it began to rain. So I and the small ones ran into the driveway where we spun about and chased the steam rising off of the hot black top.

Then I dragged my fifteen year old brother, (brother #3,) out and proceeded to teach him the basics of swing dancing. In the rain. He was very obliging and sweet.

  • Amazing Dinner

I always forget that my mother is not simply a great cook: she is a genius at matching the food to the weather. And in the hot, humid, pre-storm evening, we had a spinach, chicken, feta and strawberry salad, fruit salsa, and raisin muffins. With  homemade lemon sorbet as dessert.

It was to die for. Should I ever need a “Last Meal”, this would be it.

  • Mojitos

My beautiful sister Calliope is taking bartending lessons. I had not known this. But this means she must practice almost every night.

Oh, darn.

  • Discussion

Calliope and I sat on the porch after the rain dancing and had a beautiful sisterly rambling. She claims that she is no longer my baby sister. I disagree.

Over dinner the family  conversation ranged from Theological implications of the seven days of Creation to the intrinsic value of ice cream. and thunderstorms.

  • Dates

I poked brother #2 until he agreed to take me on a date to the movies.

Then brother #1, the last sibling still distant, (he has to hike the Grand Canyon,  the jerk poor dear,) called and talked with me for thirty minutes with fraternal affection! I used have to work to get him to stay on the phone for two minutes!

It has been a wonderful first day back, full of comfort and adventure.

In fact, it reminds me of a passage from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

“I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one’s self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales. This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?”

And this was feeling that overwhelms me on my homecoming. May all travels end so gloriously!