A Bit Close to Home

I’ve just seen August: Osage County – and if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. And if you haven’t, I highly warn you against spoilers in this post. 

-> I repeat, there are spoilers in this post <-

For someone who likes to avoid spoilers and be surprised upon first viewing, I like to make it quite clear.

Anyway. I went to the 1015pm showing tonight, as in Sunday night, although it’s technically Monday now, and because it was 1015pm on a Sunday, I was the only one in the theatre. Thankfully.

Last time I was the only one in the theatre, I’d just seen About Time – again, thankfully, as I think I cried through the entire film. Bloody good film.

But this is about August: Osage County: Screenplay written by Tracy Letts, directed by John Wells; starring the banging cast of Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, and so on. 

Meryl plays the matriarch, Violet, of course, who else would she play, Sam [Beverly] being her husband. Julia, the oldest daughter, Barbara; Julianne, the middle daughter, Ivy; Juliette, the youngest daughter, Karen. (Interesting how all the daughters are played by a variation of Juli-). Margo plays Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae; Chris Cooper plays her husband, Charlie. Ewan plays Barbara’s separated husband; and Abigail, their child, Jean. Dermot plays Karen’s fiancé. Benedict plays Little Charles, Mattie Fae’s and Charlie’s son, for all intents and purposes

Got it?

So. I knew it would be a good film going in, just because of the cast and all the praise it was winning for itself. What I didn’t know was that it was going to be incredible and hit devastatingly, eerily close to home. And not just because they filmed part of it in Nebraska. (Out in the plains where the buffalo roam, but Nebraska nonetheless).

And when I say ‘close to home’ – and here’s where major spoilers come in – I mean, really fucking close to home.

I think I’ve given ample warning now.

Phew. Okay. Violet has cancer, we learn that in the beginning. Bev has just hired someone to take care of things around the house. The next thing we know, he’s gone. Barbara gets called home because her father is missing, or at least went away without warning. It’s very clear that there are some family issues going on that seem to weave their way into every branch of the family. Soon the sheriff shows up to the house and delivers the news that they’d found Bev’s body and it appears as though he fell out of his boat and drowned. It is also ruled a suicide.

It hadn’t hit me yet, even with the dysfunction and the dead of the patriarch.

Before, during, and after the funeral, when all of the family begin to arrive, it’s tense and argumentative. Violet is popping pills left and right, and serving up judgements just as thoroughly. Any time the daughters try to bring up how difficult their lives have become, Violet explodes into a tirade about how bad her life was, and no one’s life is anywhere near as difficult as hers has been. There’s no need to even talk about it because it doesn’t compare to mine, essentially.

Barbara, naturally, as the big sister, tries to take the role of, not so much caretaker, but the one attempting to take care of everything and everyone. She certainly isn’t happy about doing it, either. Ivy has dreams of running off to greener pastures, and Karen has already done so.

But everything is about Violet, especially now that Bev is gone.

And I’ve digressed. 

So before I get bogged down by plot, because I truly don’t want to spoil everything.

I kept thinking that I couldn’t believe how tragic and dramatic everything was in this family. How could someone’s family be that dysfunctional. I mean, I know my family is dysfunction as, well, as fuck, but it couldn’t be this…

And then it hit me. I can’t even recall a portion of the film because I was kind of stunned, to be honest.

My mom has two sisters; she’s the oldest. Their mother, while she doesn’t have cancer, has a flair for the dramatics and things have usually ended up being about her. (I love my grandmother, so I’ll be as delicate as possible).

Growing up, from what my mom’s told me, it wasn’t the easiest time. In good old Iowa. Her dad was an alcoholic. He beat her and her sister with a belt if they misbehaved, and likely even when they didn’t. Mom hates basements because of it, because that’s where it would happen. She used to have to protect her little sister from it, too. I have a feeling my grandmother couldn’t do anything about it. Plus, with it being “that time” – as in, the sixties, what could be done.

When my mom was twelve years old, her dad either went out in a boat, or went out into the water somehow, and drowned. They never found his body. I don’t think mom has ever said specifically, but it likely could have been suicide. He couldn’t swim. 

A year later, my grandmother remarried and had a baby girl, mom’s youngest sister. They moved to another town in Iowa, so my mom and her sister had to start over at a new school, as well as become mother to their new baby sister. Gotta grow up fast in a situation like that.

Which meant that when mom turned 18, she found the one boy who wasn’t staying in Iowa to be a farmer, got married, and moved to Omaha. Her youngest sister had aspirations to be a model and got to move far away from Iowa for school, but eventually moved back. Her middle sister moved away and stayed away.

When I came around, it was after mom divorced the non-farmer and married my dad. Any time mom was on the phone in our house, she was fighting with her mom. Or her middle sister. Or her younger sister. Or her mom again because her younger sister called her after she fought with mom. Or her middle sister again because her mom called her after her fight with the youngest. It always ended the same way, mom being the one everyone came to and mom being the one who had to solve everything.

Now, they didn’t show any of that in August: Osage County, but they might as well have done. 

Barbara/mom, having to be the one with the heaviest load on her shoulders – sometimes asking for it, usually it being given to her. Losing their father. Violet/grandma losing her husband. And in such a way. 

I couldn’t imagine a family so dysfunctional until I thought of my own.

In the end, Violet is left alone. All of her daughters and family leave her in the house with the woman hired to cook for her.

Fortunately, that’s where the main similarities stop.

It doesn’t end like AOC. Even with all the shit, it won’t be that bad. It might have been close once, but I’m the daughter of the oldest daughter and I won’t let it happen. 

And as daughter of the oldest daughter, I’m not sure I want her to see this film. If it hurt me to watch, I’m not sure what it would do to her. It might be something she could watch in private, in the comfort of her own home, but the thought of her potentially having to suppress sobs in a populated theatre kills me. I’ll have to warn her of the triggers so she doesn’t walk into it blindly. 

Sure, mom’s divorced (and recently engaged), the middle sister is divorced, the youngest one might soon be; grandma’s got her long-term boyfriend; I never really see my cousins, and let’s face it – we’re all over the goddamn place. However, I can’t help but think that this might be the best my family’s ever been. 

 

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