Synopsis: A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham
Director: John Wells
Running Length: 121 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: By the time the stage version August: Osage County premiered to thunderous acclaim on Broadway in 2007, it wasn’t hard to see the possibilities of Tracy Letts’ play making the move from the Great White Way to Hollywood. I mean, just think of the rich casting potential for the wonderfully complex and flawed characters that Letts created…it was an actor’s feast. And when Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, Hope Springs) was announced as playing the matriarch of the Weston clan the only thing I could think was ‘Of course.’. It made perfect sense for Streep to be attracted to such a whopper of a role and even more sense for producers George Clooney (Gravity) and Grant Heslov (Argo) to lock her in as the star on top of the twisted Christmas tree that is August: Osage County.
Over the next months as more cast members like Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman, Mirror, Mirror), Ewan McGregor (The Impossible, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), Chris Cooper (The Company You Keep), Abigail Breslin (The Call), Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear), Margo Martindale (…first do no harm), Dermot Mulroney (Stoker), and Sam Shepard (Out of the Furnace, Steel Magnolias, Mud) were announced the stakes just kept getting higher and higher and the expectations soared through the roof. After all, with a multi-award winning cast gathered together for some good old fashioned family dysfunction there was no way this could miss, right?
I’ll say that if you’ve never seen a production of August: Osage County on stage you may like this a little bit more than I did. Though I enjoyed the film overall based mostly on several key performances/scenes I was more underwhelmed than I thought I’d be because the film version was missing that lightening rod indefinable IT factor that made the stage version pulsate with life. Whatever magic happened when you saw the dark secrets of this family exposed in the darkness of live theater just didn’t transfer over the same way to film.
Not to give the impression that this cast doesn’t toss themselves whole hog into trying, though. Streep (sporting an appropriately ratty brown wig and huge sunglasses that make her look like Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) gets down and dirty with her eldest daughter played by a refreshingly earthy Roberts who wasn’t vain enough to hide her faded graying roots. Gathered together in the days following the disappearance of the patriarch of the family (Shepard, who interestingly enough played Roberts boyfriend in The Pelican Brief), the Weston brood return to their dusty hometown toting all kinds of baggage.
While they eat, drink, and avoid being merry, pretty much every kind of family squabble breaks out and usually during a large family meal. These dining room scenes were quite effective on stage and they work nearly as well on screen with arguments that start small erupting into knockdown, drag out fights. Audience members that avoided recent holiday arguments with their own families will get their quota of bickering when they sit down to dine with the Westons.
Adapted by Letts from his own Pulitzer Prize winning play, the author finds acceptable ways to open up the cinematic interpretation of his work that allow the characters time away from home. That’s all well and good but part of why the stage version felt so claustrophobic was the fact that the action took place entirely in the house…so we were as trapped as the family was. Giving the actors on screen some breathing room winds up taking air out of the tension that Letts attempts to build.
It doesn’t help things that television director John Wells is behind the camera for only his second feature film. His direction is exceedingly pedestrian, though I can’t imagine these actors needed much help from him. Still, one wonders what a more seasoned director (like Gus van Sant, for instance) could have done to shape the film better.
I saw the film at a screening back in October and at that time the ending wasn’t set in stone. I know that two endings exist, one that stays closer to the stage play and another that adds a coda many feel unnecessary. I saw the second ending and agree totally that the film didn’t need it…it’s only there to placate audiences that need resolution, lessening the overall impact of all the maladies that came before it. From what I’m hearing the ending I saw is the one that stuck so take stock of when you think the movie should have ended and see if it aligns.
It’s likely that Streep and Roberts will be Oscar nominated for their work here and it wouldn’t be off the mark to say they’ve earned their spot in their categories. It’s extremely doubtful they’ll win with the quality of the other actresses they’d be competing against but the work here is demonstrative of Streep’s good instincts and that Roberts is more than just America’s sweetheart. The two make the film worth seeing and the source material itself is brilliant…if you can’t see it onstage then the film version of August: Osage County will have to do.