August Osage County opens with Violet Weston suffering from cancer and powerful pain killers with addictive side effects. Beverly, her husband, hires a home health aide to ease the burden that caring for a loved one inflicts. Violet expresses her displeasure by spewing a racist rant against Native Americans that characterizes her awnery disposition and expresses her frustration at losing her independence to care for herself.
When Beverly goes missing, Violet’s sister, three daughters, and granddaughter are summoned home. Later, his body is discovered as the result of suicide.
Following his funeral, the scene at the dining room table serves as the foundation for this family drama. Violet launches into a series of diatribes and castigates her daughters for the failure in their relationships. It is intended to irritate and provoke them as her harshest criticism is reserved for Barbara, her eldest daughter, for choosing to move so far away from home.
There is a mean-spirited aspect to Violet’s critique in what she describes as “truth-telling,” but is little more than airing the family’s dirty laundry. The source of her indignation is the sacrifices made to provide a better life for her children and the disappointment she feels over her inability to understand the choices they’ve made.
In response to why she’s so mean, Violet relays a story from her childhood about her mother’s cruelty, and when taken together with a scene of Barbara standing outside a car while her daughter rolls up the window to silence her, it conjures up a generation gap that exists where one generation can’t understand the preceding one, and is reflected in the story by four generations of women suffering from the same problem.
The trouble with August Osage County is the conflict between Violet and Barbara is taken to a level of excess that undermines both characters. The argument in the dining room scene escalates to the point where Barbara physically tackles Violet. In a subsequent scene, Barbara is trying to get Violet to focus on the issue at hand rather than quibble over their meal, so Barbara shouts, “Fuck the fish, fuck the fish, fuck the fish,” and throws her plate of fried fish at the wall so her plate shatters. An interesting story was being told that somehow descended into a bunch of screeching women yelling at each other.
Although it doesn’t redeem the movie, there is a wonderful performance between Violet’s sister and brother-in-law, played by Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale, about treating their son with kindness, otherwise it will ruin their marriage.