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12/26/13

The Moment When You Start to Love August: Osage County (The Film, That Is)

The dinner scene. The. Dinner. Scene.

But allow me to backtrack for a second…can we all agree that we love August: Osage County? Whether you saw it during its Broadway run or online, you love it. Even if you have not seen August: Osage County, I’ll save you some time by telling you that you love it. Even if you hate August: Osage County, you love it. It’s, like, the rules of theatre. Own it, live it and lets move on.


As with any film adaptation of a major Broadway work, I went into the advanced screener monday night for August with my usual trepidations - how was John Wells going to translate Anna D. Shapiro’s flawless direction, how the star-studded cast was going to hold up and what changes (if any) Tracy Letts was going to make to his Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play?

The good news is…on all three facets, no serious error was made; it is a great film. The bad news…you can’t help but wish it would triumph and reach more cinematic heights o’ awesome then it did. The film versions of Rabbit Hole and Doubt had numerous moments of win. Here? A few inspired scenes and performances that will hopefully send the unfamiliar to a local production or a YouTube bootleg to indulge in the euphoria that comes from seeing August: Osage County on stage.

Anyways, the dinner scene. Definitely the most loyal to the stage production and the first moment when I really perked up in my seat. Wells' camera pans and control over the scene is impeccable as the dialogue veers back-and-forth, to-and-from the HILARIOUS, the DARKLY HILARIOUS, the INSANE and the CRIMINALLY INSANE. You could rest up after each respite of comedic relief, but settle down because a bitch-bomb (typically from Violet) is up at bat ready to make your spine quiver in fear as to what will follow. Don’t worry - a sly, bitch remark or bitch face will send you back to laughter town. And so on and so forth…or until Barbara loses her shit and physically tackles the pill-holding Violet while retorting the ridiculously delicious, “I’M IN CHARGE NOW.”

Loves it. Loves all of it. Happy holidays to us all.

Outside of that scene though, Wells direction is mostly by-the-book and while Tracy Letts words and characters are lively, the depth and resonance is lacking just by virtue of cutting the three-and-a-half hour runtime to only two hours. It is understandable why you condense some of the side plots and scenes - how many people can bring themselves to watch a three-and-a-half hour film - but the theater aficionados know how powerful this entire piece could truly be. I mean, it is not hyperbolic to suggest August: Osage County launched a new generation of writers and actors wanting to sink their teeth into something so gritty.

And speaking of the actors, this cast deserves some credit for kicking the film up a notch or three. Meryl Streep is perfectly Meryl - an emotional whirlwind galvanizing each frame she is in. It is not exactly a surprising performance or even the most exciting - and given her film pedigree, Violet Weston is somewhat of a typical Streep character - but she is lovely in the part. Who doesn’t love a Streep scenery-chewing performance?!

But the real star of the film is Julia Roberts, words I never thought I would utter in general, let alone with the rest of the names in this cast. With the letter-perfect Amy Morton looming in memory - whom would have locked up a Tony if not for Deanna Dunagan’s phenomenal performance beside her - Roberts' casting…kind of works? Kind of. But sketchy accent aside, she nails Barbara’s journey in a way I never would have expected. She is raw, wounded, bluntly hysterical (“eat your fish, bitch”) and as needed, intense. I cheered on her scrappiness as she attempts to seize control of the nuthouse surrounding her.

More talents reside in the supporting cast - Margo Martindale's Mattie Fae and Julianne Nicholson's Ivy, two strong and beautifully subtle performances - plus some other perfectly cast actors {Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Benedict Cumberbatch}, and August: Osage County is one of the best ensembles I've seen in a film all year. I remain assured that there is a better film adaptation of August: Osage County that could be made - whether that will ever happen 20, 50 or 100 years in the future remains to be seen - but you can't really complain when Broadway is represented with such a high-profile feature and when the output is pretty great by most film's standards.

Sill, that dinner scene. I can only wish I had reason to jump across a table and yell, "I'M IN CHARGE NOW." My family should beware.


Photo Credit: August Osage County (2013)

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