If you're a fan of the endangered species known as the soap opera, then August: Osage County represents a good opportunity to learn what General Hospital might look like with decorated acting talent. Adapted from Tracy Letts' stage play of the same name, Osage County gradually and painfully reveals the secrets -- both of the dirty-little and open variety -- of an estranged Oklahoma family that is reunited when its patriarch goes missing and is then found dead.
A who's who of Oscar nominees and recognizable names were enlisted to give us a glimpse in to the twisted lives of the Weston family. Meryl Streep plays the unhinged and drug addicted matriarch Violet, and it is her tumultuous relationship with favored daughter Barbara, played by Julia Roberts, that gives the film its spine. But also around the dinner table are Ewan McGregor, Roberts' husband from whom she has separated, Abigail Breslin, her daughter. There is Streep's sister Mattie Fae, played by Margo Martindale, and her husband Charles, played by Chris Cooper, and their ne'er-do-well son Little Charles, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. And there are Roberts' sisters Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson).
Unfortunately, the most interesting thing about the film is the amount of actors you can recognize. The love-hate relationship between Streep and Roberts is the engine that is supposed to power the plot, and to a certain extent it does. Both are magnetic, though it bears mentioning that this is Streep's show more than it is her counterpart's. They feud mainly because they are alike in personality, but also because Violet is both jealous of the life her daughter has away from Oklahoma and disappointed by her apparent failures.
But this isn't enough to make director John Wells' film feel whole. The star power alongside Roberts and Streep isn't either. Getting out of the play-on-screen box appears to have been too much of a challenge. There are token shots of the stunning, expansive Oklahoma countryside, but those shots represent the only attempts to make this story feel cinematic.
There's nothing special about Meryl Streep -- superb actor that she is -- driving a melodrama situated principally around a dining room table. The story isn't particularly interesting or insightful, and neither is anything else that could have made it more dimensional.