(On TV, June 2019) There is a built-in perversion of expectations in August: Osage County that is as provocative as it is frustrating. If you picture a theatrical play (or a movie) about a dysfunctional family, you already have a rough outline of how it’s going to be structured already pre-assembled in your head. The family will get together. They will exhibit the aberrant traits that make them dysfunctional. There will be shouting. Some people are likely to be punished. But as the story advances, the family will reunite, and those most sympathetic characters will get back together toward the end, having resolved some of their difficulties and being ready to make even further progress going forward. Well, take those comfortable preconceptions and throw them away, because August: Osage County ultimately goes in a very different direction, shattering family bonds until we’re left with individuals. I had been curious about this film ever since watching the uncompromising Killer Joe—both are well-regarded movies adapted by Tracy Letts from his own plays, and this one featured an ensemble cast of capable actors. Julia Roberts goes toe-to-toe with Meryl Streep, and some unusual choices such as Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch are to be found elsewhere in the cast. This is definitely an actor’s film, guided along with the pen of a professional playwright. As such, be ready for meaty dialogue, explosive revelations, off-kilter plot development and a merciless conclusion as a family crisis featuring a disappeared patriarch brings people home and detonates repressed fault lines in their relationships. It’s often very darkly funny, with extreme actions and language (Roberts hasn’t sworn as much on-screen since Mystic Pizza). While I enjoyed much of the film on a word-for-word basis, the ending did not sit right with me for a while—until I played around with it and realize how much it upended traditional expectations about how that kind of movie is supposed to go. But as I re-read my review a few weeks after watching the film, I’m somewhat more sympathetic toward what it manages to achieve, and honestly think that being forewarned is being better prepared to appreciate it when it comes. Do not expect a final weepy get-together—August: Osage County isn’t that kind of film.