Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
Forget the television commercials that try to reduce August: Osage County to either some madcap romp or some cheery family comedy. This film is dark. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, who adapted his script for this big screen version, the black humor of the play does not necessarily translate on screen. Instead, it feels like a bleak downward spiral of a family so full of bitterness and resentment, it’s on the verge of implosion.
As directed by John Wells, the film version of August: Osage County may not feel like a fun movie, but it’s a terrific study of a family on the brink. As he steers the drama to slow-burning heights, anger both repressed and unchecked coil around each other like two boa constrictors trying to consume the other. The lengthy conversations swell to epic confrontations that are a sight to behold.
The cast offer up sincere performances that take the story to another arena that’s more heartbreak than humorous. Violet (Meryl Streep) first appears on screen with short-cropped gray, scraggly hair, chain smoking while both cursing and sweet-talking her husband (Sam Shepard) in a drunken stupor as he attempts to hire service aide Johnna (Misty Upham). “Are you an injun?” Violet asks her.
Violet is an old time "casual racist." But she also has mouth cancer and a habit of abusing pain killers. She seems constantly on the edge of boiling over. She can’t seem to bear her proximity to the end while everyone else watches. Hell hath no fury like a narcissist on the edge of death.
Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
The target of much of her anger falls on, but is not limited to, her three daughters. She treats eldest Barbara (Julia Roberts) as a threatening equal (dad’s favorite), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) with passive-aggressive disdain and the youngest, Karen (Juliette Lewis), with mean, outright insignificance. It’s such a varied pallet of abuse that it would be decadent if it didn’t come off as so cruel. All actresses hold their own, feeding off Streep and the rich script, which offers up one skeleton after another in the family’s history of unresolved issues.
Streep’s work in August: Osage County could be among the best of her many great performances. She plays an unlikable, often cruel character, which is all the more reason to appreciate how she can turn the angry, abusive matriarch into a sympathetic woman. In the end, your heart will break for what she knows have been missteps in raising a family. Too egotistical a wretch to rise above her failures for a kind word, she seems to clash with her own zealous pride, which gradually unravels through the course of the film.
Wells, who comes to this film — his second feature — after directing several episodes for the Showtime dysfunctional family series Shameless, also seems inspired by the source material. He dresses up the mise-en-scene appropriately. The film’s washed out browns and yellows capture the rotting malaise of a family barreling toward disintegration. The music is moving in parts, if somewhat manipulative. This is an emotional roller-coaster of a film.
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Ultimately, as it’s based on a play, August: Osage County is about performances. Wells gives the actors plenty of room to tear into the material, even if it fails to rise to the play’s black comedy. But who cares if August: Osage County does not necessarily pull that off? It instead offers a rather twisted, morose family drama that features some of the year’s best acting turns.
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The Weinstein Company
If you're a film fan, you're probably aware of this Christmas' August: Osage County. The film is produced by George Clooney, who will be joined by stars Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, and Dermot Mulroney for a live Q&A moderated by John Horn. Horn will be discussing the making of the film and incorporating fan questions posted on The Weinstein Company's Facebook page.
Whether a fan of the team behind the camera, in front of the camera, or the emotionally devestating play upon which the film is based, everyone can think of something to ask. Feel free to query how Clooney is faring in his recently declared fued with Leo DiCaprio, or to ask Margo Martindale what it's like to simultaneously star on three television shows (The Millers, The Americans, and Masters of Sex), making her the second busiest cast member (after Benedict Cumberbatch). Meryl Streep will sadly not be in attendance, but why not ask what exactly she's doing instead? Ask one and all what it was like working with producer Jean Doumanian, the woman who was responsible for both Saturday Night Live's nadir and discovering Eddie Murphy.
Or, go ahead and ask about whether or not the darkly comic tone of the play will remain, how the cast managed with the Oklahoma dialect, or anything else about this Oscar hopeful. While we can't imagine how a film can improve on the wonderful play, which used the theatricality of over-the-top performances to its advantage, perhaps Clooney and the Weinstein Co. were able to pull together a cast and crew who understood at its heart what this story is about. It's hard to convey familial relationships, and absolutely impossible to do so if everyone involved is at anything but the top of their game. August is a tough play, a long play, and one that so relied on the immediacy of theater that even with all the starpower in the world behind it, it still feels like a gamble. But one we're excited to take, and to find out more about!
Check out the live video below and again, write your questions to The Weinstein Company's Facebook page. The Q&A begins at 8 PM Pacific Time and 11 PM Eastern Time.
Deadline reports that Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep are working out deals to star in the adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play August: Osage County.
John Wells is directing from Letts' screenplay for the Weinstein Co. Production will start by next summer.
The play, which premiered in 2007 at Chicago's Steppenwolf, eventually headed to Broadway and London's West End. Harvey Weinstein has been developing a film version since 2007. He will produce with Jean Doumanian.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, the play revolves around a family's buried pains and present conflicts after its patriarch dies. Streep would take the role of the drug-addicted matriarch; Roberts would play the eldest daughter, whose estranged husband has had an affair with one of his students.
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