Last night I had one of those “Wow, this is only happening because I live in NY and am friends with the right people” moments.
When a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to go with her to an advanced screening of August: Osage County, my immediate response was YES. Though I hadn’t seen the play, I knew enough about it to know that the film adaptation was going to be one of the most anticipated movies of this fall and winter’s sprint to the Oscars.
Tracey Letts’s words are often frightening, especially when they are lashed out at others from Meryl Streep who turns in yet another tour de force performance. (The woman can do no wrong.) While I was bothered at times by the audience laughing at some of the harsh truths and foul language flying out from her lipstick-stained mouth, one could argue that the laughter was a coping mechanism. It was bizarre hearing that kind of bitterness coming from Meryl Streep, but at the same time, there was no one else you’d rather hear it from.
The premise of the story seems simple – set in Osage County, Oklahoma, three grownup sisters (and their significant others) are reunited when their alcoholic father skips out on their prescription drug-addicted mother (who is suffering from mouth cancer).
This is where the simplicity ends.
Everyone in this film (except maybe the Native American cook/maid) has some serious problem(s) that they are mostly unwilling to share until it just boils up and explodes out of them like the alien in Alien. Every now and again, there is an outburst (or several) between family members that was the result of prolonged festering and avoidance. People who seem close are actually strangers and those who wish themselves different from their bat-shit family members find themselves following in their footsteps.
The white house with the wraparound porch in the middle of the Great Plains no longer screams “American Dream.” Instead, it’s a cautionary tale of what happens when isolation and suffocation take hold and there is no way out. Because in August: Osage County, even the path that seems to be an escape route is lined with obstacles nearly impossible to overcome.
I’m betting a lot of people will walk away from this film marveling at Julia Roberts’s performance. This is one of the least vain roles she’s ever taken on and she is deserving of whatever praise she will likely receive. (Those who know me best know I’m not a Julia fan… so if I’m saying she’s good, she’s good.) She manages to go head-to-head with Meryl Streep and come out on top in several key scenes. Curse words fly off of Roberts’s tongue, much like Streep’s, and it’s almost jarring until you realize that these words are a necessity because there is no other way to get through to these incredibly stubborn characters.
This film is full of incredibly strong, yet at the same time incredibly weak, female characters. Each woman has her own strength, but it’s her faults that stand out and are targeted by everyone else in the film. These characters aim to tear each other down, and they all manage to succeed. It’s terrifying to watch, but you cannot look away.
Though this film focuses mostly on the women in the family, the male characters each have a purpose. Of the four male supporting roles (played by Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dermot Mulroney), I was BLOWN AWAY by Cooper. The father-son scenes between him and Cumberbatch (or him just talking about Cumberbatch’s character) were extremely poignant and made the truth about their relationship even more heartbreaking. Cooper was the least flawed of all the characters and his inherent likability was a life preserver I clung to throughout the film.
While this film boasted one of the best ensemble casts assembled, I am sad to admit that Ewan McGregor was the weak link of the film. Though he is one of my favorite actors of all time, his performance was not on the same level as everyone else. I don’t know if it was because he was working so hard to hide the accent, or that he looked like a bearded schoolboy up against the masterful Streep, but something felt off. He had a few decent scenes with Roberts, but on a whole, I was not impressed with his work in this film. (Sorry, Ewan!)
I won’t spoil any of the plot twists in this film, but there were several jaw-dropping reveals that kept the plot going and your interest levels up. The worst was finding out something horrific about the “good” characters… as if things weren’t already hard enough for them, they got an epic wrench thrown into the mix.
However, even though there were quite a few forks in the road, almost everything was wrapped up by the end of the film and there was some sense of closure among other aspects of ambiguity.
It’s a powerful film with a boat load of dialogue. This movie is heavy on the dialogue and doesn’t rely on a bunch of locations or any sort of special effects. It’s a story and you are more than interested to hear it out because you have to know how that family’s mess is going to end up.
Before we even went into the movie theater, my friend and I were chosen to take part in a focus group after the film. There were made 30 of us and we were asked to expand upon a bunch of questions that we answered in a theater-wide survey after the film. We were the first people to see the film and there were filmmakers present to listen in on the focus group. (One of said filmmakers was Harvey Weinstein… we saw him outside of the theater in the lobby when we were finally released from the focus group and I almost had a heart attack. That man and his production companies are responsible for some of my favorite films of the past two decades. I was too nervous to approach him, but I did take a blurry picture of him from across the lobby.)
When August: Osage County is released in November, I highly recommend seeing this film. It’s a shoe-in for several acting nominations (Streep, Roberts, Margo Martindale, and *maybe* Cooper), as well as screenplay and Best Picture. (In addition to Weinstein being EP, George Clooney and Grant Heslov were two of the producers… those men are among the best producers working in film today.)
See this film. And then be eternally grateful that these people are not your family members.