August: Osage County
Directed by: John Wells
Written by: Tracy Letts
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Best Actress (Meryl Streep) & Best Supporting Actress (Julia Roberts)
Tracy Letts’s screenplay (adapted from his infinitely superior Pulitzer Prize winning play) is endless quotable. The cast is able and capable (though Julia & Julianne really make the material sing). So why is August: Osage County so… sporadically electrifying but altogether simply adequate? Part of the answer is Well’s direction which, despite a few moments of inspired framing (Nicholson’s face drying dishes as she overhears a conversation about her) is tepid at best. The rest of the answer is hard to parse out. Having read the play afterward (but never having seen the play), I can feel the way certain plot strands that added weight to the material on stage felt flippant on screen (the short-circuited and oddly toothless molestation scene is probably the greatest disservice Lett’s adaptation does to his own play). Lett’s play, with its claustrophobic house encroaching our eyesight at every scene, is ultimately a souped up melodrama that walks a tight-rope between high camp and serious Americana; while the film manages to seemingly streamline its plot around Barbara (Roberts), what it does is take out the various scenes and moments that sanded the swift tonal shifts of the play itself. That said, it’s a treat to see the dinner scene come to life as well as to see Roberts at her most brittle playing off of Streep’s larger-than-life (does she play any other roles these days?) mother monster and tell her to “Eat the fish, bitch!” B