August: Osage County (1 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: John Wells (The Company Men)
Written by: Tracey Letts (Killer Joe)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, and Margo Martindale
I have to admit I need not get to see the original stage version of August: Osage County, part of me is glad, the other part wonders if the play worked better than the film. This has been a recent trend with plays turned into films they lack success of their predecessors. Frost/Nixon was the most successful, but beyond Frank Langella the film was a snooze. Doubt scored tons of acting nominations, rightly so, but overall the film felt like it could or should have escaped the staging direction from the play. Then there is The History Boys, Venus in Fur, Gods of Carnage, which all nose dived. The problem with most of these films, including August: Osage County is that Hollywood thinks the material is enough, but it's not.
August: Osage County centers around a family who comes home first because patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd) goes missing after talking to his newly hired house keeper about quotes and T.S. Elliot, right off the bat the film was trying too hard. After Beverly's wife a pill popping cancer ridden Violet Weston (Streep) goes crazy she calls her daughter Barbara (Roberts) who has moved away to come home. Soon the whole family comes together because Beverly has actually died. After the funeral the secrets or as Violet states "truth telling" begins and this family lets everything hang out.
This "truth telling" line is one highlighted in the trailer, and bugged me throughout the entire film. Violet is a terrible woman, and to be honest most of the characters in the film are just no good, or given flaws for the sake of having flaws. I am all for honesty, hell I "truth tell" but this film uses this line as a device to spew vitriol, and create a melodramatic mess. Tracy Letts who wrote the play, appeared to keep the stage like nature of the film with these speeches, and long scenes which could explode on a stage, but they fizzle on film. Letts should have adapted his play to play more like film, but he kept the long, long dinner scene with an over crowded cast, some of whom seem more like plot devices especially Little Charles (Bendict Cumberbatch), Karen Weston (Juliette Lewis), and Steve Huberbretch Karen's fiance (Dermot Mulroney). These characters felt one dminesional and never explored, making the film feel clunky to bring in name stars.
How can you avoid talk about being clunky, and not understanding the material without mentioning director John Wells. Wells who has soared on television in ER, never seems to grasp the understanding of this play adapted to film. Wells never lets the material breathe; he pounces moment after moment never letting anything be subtle. This family felt more like the Kardashians minus the incest, but the again who knows with them. Wells also gets his cast to pontificate as though they are on stage, and this works sometimes throughout the film, but mainly bogs the film down.
How about the performances, the central focus of the film has been highlighting this monstrously talented cast led by the great Meryl Streep. While Streep has entertaining moments as Violet or Vi, her performance is too campy, set more for the stage, sure she yells, cries, and tears people down, and she does it the way you would imagine, with gusto, but at the end her performance left me cold. The best performances in the film came from Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, and Margo Martindale. Roberts is best when she acts in this manner; she yells a little, but there is something more natural about her character. Cooper and Martindale are not around much, but they steal the film, especially Cooper his last scene with Martindale who plays sister woke me up from a slumber, of "oh more yelling and truth telling." It's just a shame Cooper and the film get lost in a contrived film about characters who never get you to invest in them.
August: Osage County is what happens when you think can turn a Tony Award/ Pulitzer Prize winning play into Oscar Bait, a jumbled mess that's over the top, tries way too hard, and does not succeed in evolving the material.