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"August: Osage County" is a stunning, powerful play written by Tracy
Letts - it rocked Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize. And it's going
to rock a movie theater near you. This isn't a movie for everyone. It's
exhausting, it's full of really despicable people, and it's mighty
depressing. But the acting is so terrific, the roles so strong, that
you don't want to miss it.
It's the story of the Weston family: Violet, a drug-addicted cancer patient (Meryl Streep); her husband Beverley, a well-known poet (Sam Shepard); their daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis), and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson); Violet's sister Minnie Fae Aiken (Margo Martindale), her husband Charles (Chris Cooper), and their son, known as Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch).
When Beverley commits suicide, the family gathers and it's wretched from the beginning. Violet is totally drugged, Barbara and her husband (Ewan McGregor) are in the process of breaking up, Ivy has a secret boyfriend and, though she stayed behind and has been caring for her mother, she's ready to leave for New York, and Karen arrives with her fiancée (Dermot Mulroney) who has been married three times and seems a little too interested in Barbara's 14-year-old daughter. When Little Charles arrives on a later bus than he was supposed to take, his mother belittles him in front of everyone. Little Charles is considered a not so little loser, and is the only likable one in the film.
Each daughter has reacted differently to having parents like Violet and Beverley. Barbara is hard and tough like her mother, Ivy keeps her feelings and desires to herself, and Karen is a dingbat looking for love, probably in all the wrong places. The Aiken dynamic - obviously Violet and Minnie were forced to grow up to be as tough and mean as possible in order to survive; Charles is quiet with a fury underneath, and Little Charles looks like he's going to break in two any minute. He shares the same secret as Ivy: they're in love and planning to go away together.
This is a grueling story of the destructive force of addiction, the danger of anger, the hurt of betrayal, and the pain caused by keeping secrets.
I was not fortunate enough to see the Broadway play so I can't compare the performances. I thought Meryl Streep was terrific - it's the kind of role actresses love, a sort of Martha in Virgina Woolf gone completely haywire, and except for Helen Mirren and Judy Dench, there's no one better to tackle it than Streep. Julia Roberts gives what is probably her best performance. She's not a favorite of mine, and I don't find her a particularly good actress, but she almost pulls this off, probably because of the talent surrounding her. Margo Martindale as the caustic and bitter Minnie, who reminds her niece that she's not just her "fat old aunt" is sensational. Violet, Barbara and Minnie have the showiest roles.
In the male roles, Sam Shepard, though his role is small, is elegant and sympathetic, and Chris Cooper doesn't have much to do until a showdown with Minnie, which is galvanizing. And Benedict Cumberbatch - what can I say - I adore the man. He's a nasty villain in Star Trek and here, an insecure young man who hates himself for his tardiness and inability to keep a job. He's heartbreaking. He can do anything and he proves it here as he sings -- yes, sings! -- to Ivy.
Your family, no matter the problems, will look like Leave it to Beaver after you see this film. See it - enjoy the fabulous acting and be grateful that you're not going home to anything like it. I hope.
This film was amazing. The cast, director, and cinematographer are top
notch. It will surely be nominated for several Oscars. I had a chance
to view it during a Film Festival and was excited that I got a ticket
to this sold out showing. But then, halfway through the movie, I nearly
The outrageous, violent, destructive behavior of the characters and between the characters hit a little too close to home for my comfort. For those who think the actions of the characters seem over the top, let me assure you they are not. When you mix addiction, lies, and a lifetime of pain, you get exactly this type of toxic concoction.
I required multiple tissues to get me through to the end, but ultimately I stayed (as a film lover, I could not bring myself to walk out of such a wonderfully crafted movie). I'm glad I did.
Before I even start to talk about John Wells' new film "August: Osage
County," I have to say I've never seen the stage play or read it by
writer Tracy Letts. Following the screening, I felt it was important to
disclose. An all-star cast is assembled, all which have individual
moments to shine, which is surprising with a cast this size, and for
the most part, the film succeeds on multiple levels. Sure to be
divisive, "August: Osage County" is tenacious and beautifully
constructed. Soulful and unafraid to show the gritty and ugly of the
American family, Wells' film is utterly compelling. A must-see for the
awards season. An instant Oscar contender.
From the top to the bottom, this film exists and succeeds by its performances. At the top of the heap and best in show is the stunning and beautiful Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts. Her turn as Barbara Weston is in the top three performances she's ever delivered. Roberts dives into herself in a way we haven't seen since "Erin Brockovich." The narrative fully turns on her character and in the final half of the film, she pulls the train through to the station. I'm incredibly impressed with her work. Roberts is a revelation and reminds the world how good she really is. A sure-fire Oscar contender.
As Violet Weston, a role played by Deanna Dunagan on Broadway, there were high expectations to see what 3-time Academy Award Winner Meryl Streep would bring to the role. For the past few years, I've begged for Streep to "dirty it up" and play a role like this. A drug-addicted matriarch who a gutter mouth lets Streep give a fresh take on a character. Her performance is middle of the road for what Streep has delivered in her career. That can mean different things to different people. Middle of the road for Streep could be the best of any actor. I walked out of the theater feeling the same way I felt following the end credits of "Doubt." Streep excels in many areas of acting, but I feel when it comes to stage adaptations to the big screen, Streep doesn't live in the character as comfortably as she would in any other role. There are times that the role does go a bit over-the-top. That being said, Streep is still plenty great as she's been in other roles as of late. She inhabits lots of Violet's beats and mannerisms and gives dynamite exchange with some of her co-stars. It's a performance that will surely land her another Best Actress nomination.
Trying to pick any of the supporting characters to single out is like trying to pick your favorite child. Margo Martindale as Mattie Fae is ballsy and spunky and its good to see an actor of her caliber finally getting a chance to rip into a role like this. Her character reveals the film's darkest secret which gives her an edge over some of her co- stars, which Wells directs masterfully with DP Adriano Goldman.
I could eat Benedict Cumberbatch up with a spoon. As "Little Charles," he definitely has the narrative's most sympathetic story but more importantly, in a film that is full of despicable people, he manages to pull the audience in to root for him, even when you know he's doing something terribly wrong.
I've longed for Juliette Lewis to get back in Oscar's graces following her nomination over twenty years ago in Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear." She as dynamic as we've seen her in the last few years, delivering her best turn yet as Karen. A true professional. Ewan McGregor continues to elevate himself as one of our finest actors working today as Bill, Barbara's estranged husband. As someone who is on the opposite side of the rational spectrum when compared the Weston ladies, McGregor stands out as a positive take. Unfortunately, he only gets one scene to really let loose in a memorable manner.
I can recall being floored by the work of Julianne Nicholson in the little indie that no one saw, "Flannel Pajamas" nearly seven years ago. I've never fully revisited her work since despite stints on "Conviction" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." As Ivy, the one sister that stayed behind, Nicholson embraces her natural and simplistic mannerisms that give her role a much-needed arc in the narrative. In a perfect world, we would be looking at Julianne Nicholson for serious Oscar consideration.
Brief but all too clear as perfection, Sam Shepard ignites his brief screen time as Beverly Weston, the patriarch of our family. Same could be said for Misty Upham as Johnna, our Native American housekeeper sitting as a silent observer.
Academy Award winner Chris Cooper shines when he takes on sensitive and accessible performances. With a tough exterior but a soft and loving emotional center, Cooper acts as an sentimental pillar to our tale. If there is room for a man in an Oscar lineup from a film dominated by women, he is likely it.
Director John Wells has a strong hold on the material. He understands where he wants the narrative to go, putting an emphasis on the story and letting any directorial styles take a backseat. It's definitely appreciated in a story that has so many moving parts. Writer Tracy Letts adapts his own play and in the second half really stretches out his legs as the story takes shape for certain characters. The first thirty minutes are rough. The dialogue isn't as quick as snapping your finger. Some monologues run a little long and there are a pair of instances where I checked out of the story for a moment.
The Weinstein Company have quite a gem on their hands. Lots of heart and laughs, "August: Osage County" has the year's best cast ensembles and is one of the year's best films.
Read More of the Review @ (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
Though nearly 40 minutes of Tracy Lett's Pulitzer Prize winning dramedy
have been shaved for the screen version, "August: Osage County" still
manages to deliver on the towering play's hearty laughs, gasp inducing
shocks, and well earned tears.
While it is hardly the best adaptation of a play to a film, as much of the film still retains it's indoor, staging setting, it is boosted by some sterling performances of actors at the top of their craft. Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale are stellar, playing off each other with deft and precise timing. Julia Roberts has not had this good of a role in... ever, and she mostly delivers. Julianne Nicholson is both quiet yet fiercely determined as middle daughter Ivy. Sam Sheppard is amazing in the even more truncated role of the Weston family patriarch who goes missing, and Misty Upham is so good with so little to say as the young Indian woman, Johnna, tossed into a family in turmoil.
Of course the turmoil is led by the Medea-of-the-Midwest, Violet, played for every ounce by Meryl Streep in one of her most indelible performances ever. While viewers will surely be talking about the "infamous" post funeral dinner scene, the price of admission should be had for Streep's monologue late into the "second act," where she sits with her daughters on a swing set and discusses the worst Christmas ever: an acting class with the full gamut of emotion.
Viewers may be equally divided by spending 130 minutes with such unhappy people, but there are plenty of dark laughs in Letts' screenplay to alleviate the tension. And with actors these good interpreting the parts, "August: Osage County" is easier to swallow than some awkward family dinners we've all had to attend at some point in our lives.
This is an exceptionally challenging film and most won't be able to
stay with it as it hurtles, repeatedly, from hysterical comedy to
blackest tragedy in almost the same breath - the term "tragicomedy"
never fit a film so well ...
There are some stupendous performances here, Meryl Streep in particular but Roberts is outstanding too amongst a superb ensemble cast - the script is firecrackingly terrific and the (less is more when you've got this much going on ...) direction is perfect too ...
You know something? I'm a 48 year old guy with way over a thousand films under my belt and this may well creep into my all-time top 10, it's that good ...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Yes, the acting, top to bottom, is flawless, but to what end? Although it's being advertised as comedy it's drearily unfunny. It's creepily like watching a look-at-the-rubes in Oklahoma, freak show. A miserable collection of mean, addicted, distraught, and depressed family, which as individuals, might be believable, but as a group is preposterous. You wouldn't want to spend five minutes with any of them, let alone two hours. And, no, it has nothing to say about addiction or family. It seems to have little to say about anything except that the people on screen can't stand to be with each other any longer than they have to, and after this they won't see each other again. Lots of fun for the cast, and maybe even an Oscar or two, hopefully at least a nomination for Julianne Nicholson. No fun at all for the audience. This won a Pulitzer and Tonys? I can't understand what anyone sees in this piece of A list dreck.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the late 19th century a common playwriting trope was to build a play
to moments of tremendous intensity where the star would astonish the
audience with the brilliance of his or her acting. The plays had no
real purpose other than to provide those moments; there was no dramatic
core, no purpose to them other than that. Those kinds of plays, like
"The Count of Monte Cristo", which O'Neill skewers in "Long Day's
Journey Into Night", are dismissed today as tripe, as dated and
"August: Osage County" is exactly that, only modern and written for an ensemble cast rather than for a single star. Sure, the acting is very good, but so what? Who cares? Where's the story? What's the point? Why are we spending time with these people?
Understand, my complaint is not that "August: Osage County" is depressing, it's that it's cheap. Many fine movies are miserably depressing, but they're honest, they're driven by something other than a desire to create 'actory' moments; "The Swimmer" comes to mind, as does "The Night Porter", and "Enemies: A Love Story", and "The Bicycle Thief", and "Ikiru"... This thing, on the other hand... it feels like Tracy Letts just piled misery upon misery upon misery for no reason other than his belief that that gets you taken seriously. And considering the awards the play received, he was right, which hardly speaks well for the state of dramatic criticism.
At one point (spoiler ahead), after he's already been larding the suffering on with a trowel for quite a while, there's a death scene -- and while watching it I just couldn't help myself, I laughed out loud.
Seriously, what is the point of this? In playwriting class, the first principle they teach is that "drama is the day the change occurred". In other words, if there is no chance of change, if the characters (at least the protagonist) are not wrestling with an inner conflict that could resolve itself several ways, then there is no drama. That's the case with "August: Osage County". You might as well be watching a B-Western for all the real depth there is to the characters. Each time you're introduced to a character (with one or two very minor exceptions) you know exactly who they are now and exactly who they'll be at the end of the movie. It's just 'sound and fury, signifying nothing'.
In a word, trash.
"My wife takes pills, and I drink. That's the bargain we've struck."
Beverly Watson (Sam Shepherd)
Let the acting begin: As if the race had begun to determine the most disaffected member of the most dysfunctional family ever depicted on film, August: Osage County is the most violent film this year without a drop of visible blood.
In order to pull off this Eugene O'Neil-Tennessee Williamsl-Sam Shepherd-like dramatic version of Tracy Letts' play (Letts is the screenwriter as well), director John Wells needed to have an A-list cast; he does just that. In arguably the best acting of the year, Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the drug-addled schizophrenic matriarch of a family where dinners end up with broken plates and hearts. Although her performance is a tour de force (when are hers not?), the Oscar may elude her this time because her character is so unlikeable, and, well, she eats most of the available scenery.
Heading the rest of the cast is Julia Roberts as daughter Barbara Weston, a soon-to-be-divorced realist absorbing the punches of mom and Barbara's Pippi-Longstocking-chasing husband (Ewan McGregor) until she almost can't take it anymore. This is the best acting of Roberts' career.
As if the challenges were not enough for a Thanksgiving in any of our families, Juliann Nicholson's Ivy Watson is so vulnerable that she has fallen for first cousin, Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), a liaison discouraged by the family rank and file, whose ethical button is pushed by such irregularity but never their alcoholism and verbal abuse buttons.
The ultra-emotional violence and the pervasive shouting may turn away some delicate-souled audience members, but for me a language lover, sparring at the dinner table is delightful out-of-control wit. Acerbic to be sure, but not dull.
Barbara encapsulates the horror of the family: "Thank God we can't tell the future, or we'd never get out of bed."
Greetings again from the darkness. Tracy Letts had a very nice year in
2008. He won the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for writing the play August:
Osage County. Since then, he has also written the play and screenplay
for Killer Joe, and been seen as an actor in the key role of a Senator
in the TV show "Homeland". This time out, he adapts his own play for
director John Wells' (The Company Men, TV's "ER") screen version of
August: Osage County.
With an ensemble cast matched by very few movies over the years, the screen version begins with what may be its best scene. Weston family patriarch and published poet Beverly (the always great Sam Shepard) is interviewing Johnna for a position as cook and housekeeper when they are interrupted in stunning fashion by Violet (Meryl Streep), Beverly's acid-tongued wife who is showing the effects of chemotherapy and her prescription drug addiction. This extraordinary pre-credits scene sets the stage for the entire movie, which unfortunately only approaches this high standard a couple more times.
Despite the film's flaws, there is no denying the "train-wreck" effect of not being able to look away from this most dysfunctional family. Most of this is due to the screen presence of a steady stream of talented actors: in addition to Streep and Shephard, we get their 3 daughters played by Julia Roberts (Barbara), Julianne Nicholson (Ivy) and Juliette Lewis (Karen); Ewan McGregor and Abigail Breslin as Roberts' husband and daughter; Margo Martindale (Violet's sister), her husband Chris Cooper (Charles) and their son Benedict Cumberbatch.
As with most dysfunctional family movies, there is a dinner table scene ... this one occurring after a funeral. The resentment and regret and anger on display over casseroles is staggering, especially the incisive and "truth-telling" Violet comments and the defensive replies from Barbara. As time goes on, family secrets and stories unfold culminating in a whopper near the end. This is really the polar opposite of a family support system.
Meryl Streep's performance is one of the most demonstrative of her career. Some may call it over the top, but I believe it's essential to the tone of the movie and the family interactions. Her exchanges with Julia Roberts define the monster mother and daughter in her image theme. They don't nitpick each other, it's more like inflicting gaping wounds. Surprisingly, Roberts mostly holds her own ... though that could be that the film borders on campy much of the time. Streep's scene comes as she recalls the most horrific childhood Christmas story you could ever want to hear.
It must be noted that Margo Martindale is the real highlight here. She has two extraordinary scenes ... each very different in style and substance ... and she nails them both. Without her character and talent, this film could have spun off into a major mess. The same could be said for Chris Cooper, who is really the moral center of the family. While the others seem intent on hiding from their past, he seems to make the best of his situation.
The film never really captures the conflicting environments of the old Weston homestead and the wide open plains of Oklahoma. The exception is a pretty cool post-funeral scene in a hayfield where Roberts tells Streep "There's no place to go". The main difference between the film version and stage version is the compressed time and the decision to include all explosive scenes. There is just little breathing room here. Still, it's one of the more entertaining and wild dysfunctional comedy-dramas that you will see on screen, and it's quite obvious this group of fine actors thoroughly enjoyed the ensemble experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
August: Osage County is a miserable experience. For all it's incredible
acting talent, what has been given to them is a family drama about
people so petty and hateful that sitting at their dinner table is like
being on a bus with a bunch of mean drunks. Trailers for this movie
would have you assume that this is a movie about a family that learns
the meaning of bonding. It's not. This is a movie about a lot of
spiteful, hateful, bull-headed, mean-spirited people who spend their
time together throwing mean, hurtful insults at one another like a
family reunion edition of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Based on
the Pulizer Prize Winning play by Tracy Letts (who also penned the
screenplay) - August: Osage County works through the playbooks of
Eugene O'Neill, Anton Chekov, Thorton Wilder and Edwin Albee, imitating
their works but, not honoring them. Letts replaces human feeling with
cuss fights, and we're left at the dinner table with people we with
would just go away.
The story takes place in the far-flung, sun-baked landscape of Oklahoma, where we meet a long-married couple Violet and Beverly Weston whose connective marital tissue is that they enjoy hating one another. Beverly (Sam Shepard) is a poet who has a loving relationship with his booze. Violet (Meryl Streep) is suffering from mouth cancer and is taking so many prescription drugs that she's become an addict. We sympathize because of her condition but, in truth, Violet is a vile, bitter woman whose entire vocabulary is made up of acid-tinged insults that she happily flings at anyone in her hemisphere the fact that she has mouth cancer is both literal and a metaphor.
Beverly goes out on his boat one day, but doesn't come back alive some say accident, other say suicide. Upon his death, a flock of relatives descend on the Weston home, including Violet and Beverly's three daughters: Barbara (Julia Roberts) who is just as bitter as her mother; Ivey (Julianne Nicholson) who is solemn and quiet most of the time; and Karen (Juliette Lewis), a giddy chatterbox who is forever bragging about her honeymoon. Also around are Beverly's brother Charles (Chris Cooper), Violet's sister Fanny (Margo Martindale), their son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch); Barbara's cheating husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), and his 14 year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Take a good look at the talent involved here and consider that much of the movie has these people either shouting or hitting one another. Worse is that they are so predictable that you start counting the minutes until someone throws a dinner plate.
There are a lot of personal problems among this family; grudges, dormant feuds and petty arguments that come to light as this family gathers. Somewhere you might have reason to expect some measure of understanding. You expect some resolution, but it never comes. After the funeral, the family gathers at Violet's dinner table for a long scene that is so unpleasant that you want to put your fingers in your ears. Violet seats herself at the head of the table and begins an argument with Barbara so hate-filled and angry that we're not surprised when it ends with the two of them in a violent confrontation on the living room floor. The rest of the family is no better. Over the next few days, they take the opportunity to air their dirty laundry, so we get horrifying revelations of mistaken paternity, pedophilia, infidelity and even incest.
It is never a requirement that all movie characters must be likable, but there must be some emotional foothold for the audience. What did we do to deserve these people? While it's true that the familial bitterness is generational (the movie makes the abundantly clear) shouldn't there be someone with the sense to put it to an end? The family grudges and fights send the family members scattering back to their respective lives, leaving only Violet and Barbara. Both are husbandless and have the potential to find comfort in one another. But, it never happens. By the end, the one character we have come to sympathize with is Beverly. He has opted out of the family sickness and, much to our surprise, we kind of understand why.
*1/2 (of four)
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