When Tracy Letts's Pulitzer-winning play August: Osage County was on Broadway, the entire play was set in a house—a sprawling house with an open front, three floors, a big porch, and many bedrooms—that fills the stage. Everything happens in that house, and the result? Claustrophobia, which mirrors the characters' own suffocation. They're boxed in by their family's secrets, and history, and vituperation.
John Wells's film adaptation (with a screenplay by Letts) trades about half that suffocation for the wide-open plains of Oklahoma, golden and lovely in the sunset. But all the familial smothering is still there. The Weston family isn't what you'd call tight-knit, but when the family patriarch disappears, the family—three daughters; an aunt, uncle, and cousin; and an assortment of offspring and significant others—comes together at the family home on the Oklahoma plains. With them they bring all their baggage, from old wounds and bitterness to addictions and secrets. The pressure cooker gets switched on.
This setup is as old as the plains themselves, with variations written by playwrights as eminent as Chekhov and Shakespeare. Letts's play won a Pulitzer and a Tony largely because it's a compelling, heartbreaking portrayal of life in an often-overlooked part of America—and also a very true play about the ways that many families love one another, but can't stop hurting one another, either.
(Trivia: Letts is on Homeland Season 3, and won a Tony for his acting in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf; he also wrote and adapted Bug.)
The film cast of August: Osage County is almost too obviously stacked with stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan MacGregor, ...1