Monday 13 January 2014

Movie Review: August: Osage County

Within the first few minutes of the film, Meryl Streep shows herself as one of today's greatest actresses. The woman is like a chameleon. She is so different; she is so in the character; she is almost unrecognisable as Meryl Streep. Wow. Like really wow. That woman can act.

This black comedy drama is a film adaptation of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name by Tracy Letts. And black it is. This over the top dysfunctional family represents everything you don't want in your home but may have encountered in one form or another over the years. You can't help but laugh at times as one family secret after another comes spilling out with outrageous and explosive results. These emotionally crippled individuals have done their best to cope but in some cases seem to have failed miserably.

The story starts with the introduction and suicide of Beverley Weston (Sam Shepard), the head of the family. The rest of the film revolves around Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) and a gathering of the clan for the funeral. One by one we are introduced to the various family members and discover their uneasy relationship to Mom along with their own uneasy lives.

Barbara Weston-Fordham (Julia Roberts): Marriage is hard.

Karen Weston (Juliette Lewis): That's one thing about Mom and Dad. You've got to tip your hat to anybody who can stay married that long.

Ivy Weston (Julianne Nicholson): Karen, he killed himself.


Why do we go to the films? To be entertained. But sometimes that entertainment makes a connection with us because it reflects real life, our own real lives. We stare at the train wreck and chuckle at the screwball horror; but there may a bit of "There for the grace of God" in it all. It's easy to sit back and watch screwed up people screwing up not just their lives, but the lives of others then passing that screwing up down the line however, some of us have been witness to that in reality and it is a most unpleasant experience. We chuckle because we've been there.

The cast is stellar. Besides Meryl Streep, there are a number of known faces: Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, etc., and all of them provide a wonderful ensemble cast for this tumultuous few days in the life of the typical dysfunctional American family. Curiously enough, the critics do not appear to be too partial to the film. Expressions such as too theatrical or claustrophobic seem to criticise a film adapted from a stage play as being more of a play than a film. The story is intimate and personal but very dark and brooding although I'm not sure how that unto itself adds up to being too much of a play as opposed to being a film. Sometimes things click and sometimes they don't. Considering the play won a Pulitzer Prize, one would be hard pressed to say the film didn't have the most prestigious antecedents but I have found over the years that what wins awards isn't necessarily popular. It can be an interesting exercise to take anything which is criticised and try to figure out what you would change to transform it into something generally accepted as good if not great. Not so easy. Sometimes things click and sometimes they don't.

Final Word
I enjoyed the film. This obviously isn't a feel good story and watching somebody have a pretty bad time of it in what appears to be not a very good life requires a certain mental fortitude. For no other reason I am reminded that if I ever think I'm having a bad day, there's somebody who's having a day worse than me, sometimes far worse. Train wreck? Ha, ha. My day isn't so bad after all. The family patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) gives the following quote at the beginning of the film.

"Life is long."
-T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

Amen. Let's try to make it a good one.


Rotten Tomatoes: August: Osage County (2013): 65%
The sheer amount of acting going on in August: Osage County threatens to overwhelm, but when the actors involved are as talented as Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, it's difficult to complain.

Wikipedia: August: Osage County (film)
August: Osage County is a 2013 American black comedy-drama film written by Tracy Letts and based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play by the same name. The film is directed by John Wells and produced by George Clooney, Jean Doumanian, Grant Heslov, Steve Traxler, and Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The ensemble cast is led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

Wikipedia: August: Osage Country (play)
August: Osage County is a darkly comedic play by Tracy Letts. It was the recipient of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago on June 28, 2007, and closed on August 26, 2007. It had its Broadway debut at the Imperial Theater on December 4, 2007, and the production transferred to the Music Box Theatre on April 29, 2008. The Broadway show closed on June 28, 2009, after 648 performances and 18 previews.


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