original Broadway production of Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County dominated the Tonys, netting best straight play, best lead
actress for Deanna Dunagan, best featured actress for Rondi Reed, best director
for Anna D. Shapiro, and another lead actress nomination for Amy Morton. Aside from Letts adapting his play for the
screen, none of the Tony winners would reprise their roles in the movie
version. Instead, it was clearly
conceived as an Oscar vehicle for a number of formerly popular stars. Prepare
for a lot of yelling and drawling when the John Wells helmed August: Osage County (trailer here) opens tomorrow
in New York.
Violet Weston was a terrible mother to her grown children and remains a
thoroughly rotten human being in her twilight years. Even the onset of mouth cancer has not moderated
her nasty temperament. It seems she
finally drove her beloved and despised husband Beverly to suicide, but the
ambiguous circumstances leave some room for denial. After his funeral, the extended family gathers
for a memorial dinner. The main course
will be recriminations, followed by bile for desert.
it or not, everyone is there. Ivy is the
mousey daughter who never got out from under Mother Weston’s thumb. Karen is the family’s Blanche Dubois, who has
brought along her next prospective sugar daddy hubby. Barbara Weston is the only daughter Violet
ever respected, because she has some backbone and attitude. Unfortunately, her relations are currently
strained with her unfaithful husband and their moody tweener daughter. As if
that were not enough, Weston’s sister Mattie Fae Aiken (sort of a Violet-lite)
will also be in attendance, along with her laidback husband Charlie, and their
awkward son Little Charles, upon whom she constantly rains down emotional
abuse. The cooking and serving will be
done by Johnna Monevata, the Native American domestic Beverly hired shortly
before his misadventure. If a fire broke
out in the house, she would be the only one you would save.
the film starts, Sam Shepard’s wonderfully understated near cameo as Beverly
Weston suggests we are in for an acting showcase. Then Meryl Streep shuffles in, like Dwight
Frye in a Dracula movie and all hope of subtlety is thrown out the window. Seriously, there has to be a chapter of
Overactors Anonymous in Hollywood.
Admitting there is a problem is always the first step (I’ve heard there
are eleven more after that), but its never going to happen until critics and
guilds stop hyping every Streep performance just because they’re supposed to. There
are times you think Streep will end a scene by loudly proclaiming “Acting!”
like Jon Lovitz’s Thespian character on Saturday
Night Live. The way she masticates
the furniture will give audiences indigestion.
her more-is-never-enough approach sort of works during the big dinner time
smackdown. However, Julia Roberts
deserves credit for hanging with her without going wildly over the top. Frankly, it looks like she is manhandling
Streep for real at one point, which provides a degree of viewer satisfaction. When
Roberts and Streep go at it, the movie starts to click. Unfortunately, this natural peak comes about midway
through the film. Every predictable
family revelation that follows feels like a letdown.
Roberts’ work is consistently strong throughout the film. She also has some fine support from Chris
Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, and Misty Upham as Big Charlie, Ivy Weston, and Johnnna
Monevata, respectively. It is worth
noting these are quieter, more reflective and nuanced turns. In contrast, Benedict Cumberbatch proves sometimes
less really is less, disappearing into the background as poor put-upon Little
When you see the film version of Osage, it is easy to understand why it was successful on-stage. Perhaps Streep’s
unrestrained performance would work better in that venue, if you were hard of
hearing and sitting in the back row of the balcony. On film, it is destined to rank alongside
Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie
Dearest. Violet probably doesn’t dig
wire hangers either. There is a lot of
good work in the film version, but ultimately it is structurally unbalanced and
fatally overwhelmed by its excess Streepness.
Only satisfying for diehard Roberts fans, August: Osage County opens tomorrow (12/27) in New York at the
Loews Lincoln Square and the Regal Union Square.
Labels: Benedict Cumberbatch, Julia Roberts, Tracy Letts