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"August: Osage County" Film is Camp Classic
‘August: Osage County’ Review: Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts Go at It Like Godzilla vs. Megalon
by Alonso Duralde
The big-screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ hit play is never dull, but it plays more like a camp-classic-in-waiting than a Pulitzer-winner.
“Don’t get all Carson McCullers on me,” snaps Barbara (Julia Roberts) to one of her over-dramatizing sisters, but that’s a stone that really shouldn’t be thrown within the glass house that is “August: Osage County,” a movie that feels like a stew of McCullers and Tennessee Williams and Beth Henley and Robert Harling and countless other writers who have assembled the unhappy members of a dysfunctional family under one roof for subsequent fireworks of recrimination and regret.
To get the most enjoyment out of “August,” it’s best to think of it less as an adaptation of a Tony Award– and Pulitzer Prize-winning play or as a screen adaptation of playwright Tracy Letts (the previous ones have been the very intense “Killer Joe” and “Bug”) and more like an all-star opportunity for bad behavior, shocking revelations and even a cat fight.
Director John Wells (the TV mogul’s previous screen directorial credit was 2010’s “The Company Men”) turns the piece’s dark, lurid humor up to 11, and it’s up to this generation’s greatest screen actress to find the honesty and the power amongst all the showboating: I’m referring, of course, to Margo Martindale, who nails her scenes as Mattie Fae.
Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are a hoot as well, don’t get me wrong, but they tear into each other, their co-stars and the scenery with all the reticence of Godzilla and Megalon doing battle in the Tokyo suburbs.
The three Weston sisters — and at least since Chekhov, stories like this almost always seem to revolve around three sisters — return to their sprawling Oklahoma home upon the disappearance and subsequent death of the patriarch, Beverly (Sam Shepard). Dutiful Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) stayed home and bore the brunt of tending to the family’s monster mommy, the pill-popping, blunt-talking Violet (Streep).
Flighty Karen (Juliette Lewis) dashed off to Florida, where she’s been involved with a series of questionable men; Steve (Dermot Mulroney), her current fiancée, has accompanied her to the lion’s den. And then there’s Barbara, who’s got a troubled marriage to an intellectual (Ewan McGregor as Bill) and a strained relationship with her daughter (Abigail Breslin as Jean) — in other words, she’s turning out just like dear old mom.
Between the heat, the proximity and Violet’s viciously tart tongue, it doesn’t take long before the sins of the past and present (and maybe even a few future ones) come roaring up, leading to a post-funeral dinner sequence where truths are told, dishes are broken and Roberts gives fellow Oscar-winner Streep a flying tackle that the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling would admire.
“August: Osage County” is certainly never boring, but it almost always veers in the direction of diva silliness rather than of gravitas — one of Streep’s climactic scenes should probably feel like a soul punch, but it either accidentally or intentionally calls to mind the camp classics “Mommie Dearest” and “Valley of the Dolls.”
With Streep and Roberts going so broad and so big, the rest of the cast wisely underplays to varying effect. Nicholson and Chris Cooper (as Violet’s brother-in-law) both deliver intensely slow burns that lead to third-act explosions, while McGregor retreats to that bland place he almost always goes when doing an American accent.
But then there’s Martindale, as Violet’s sister — she’s the nicer sibling, yes, but she’s got a temperament and some secrets of her own. Whether she’s sharing a nasty chortle with Streep over some old family photos or grounding one of the story’s soapier twists with a gutting, heartfelt confession, she does the most to tether this tale to reality.
- I saw it yesterday at the Ft. Worth Lonestar Film Festival and I'd pretty much agree with this assessment: the script seems like a parody of O'Neill and Williams, where the writer had a checklist of clichés that he ticked off as he wrote; the direction is flat and uninspired; the cast mostly screams at each other for 2 plus hours, but it's Meryl who gives the worst performance, a ridiculously over-the-top piece of work and one of her mast mannered performances ever. This is one time when the Academy can quite comfortably NOT nominate La Streep.
- Liza Minnelli should have gotten the Streep role.
- Now I want to see it more than ever.
- I've tried watching "The Hours" this week and I'm finding Streep very, very mannered.
- Patty Duke should have gotten the Meryl role
- R1 = Glenn
- Patty Duke or Grace Zabriskie would have been great.
- Trish Van Devere should have gotten the Meryl role.
- [quote]by Alonso Duralde
does any one know if he is documented?
- Kate Jackson should have got the Meryl role.
- Priscilla Barnes should've gotten the Meryl role.
- Joe Manganiello was 1st choice and would've played Violet, but his schedule didn't permit it.
- Tanya Roberts should've... Ok. No.
- I think Alonzo's gone overboard trying to emotionally distance himself from the subject matter. I bet after he finished this review he threw up and cried till he got a migraine and then scheduled an emergency phone session with his shrink.
- Gabourey Sibide should have gotten the Meryl role.
- Ernest Borgnine should have gotten the Meryl role.
- Ernest Borgnine should've got shot out of a cannon.
- Lora Meredith should've gotten the Meryl role.
- Juliette Lewis should have got the Juliette Lewis role, oh wait
- I've always, ALWAYS said that I don't find the overwhelming, gushing appeal of Meryl Streep OR Julie Roberts for that matter.
Sure, Streep is a fine actress from time to time, but it's only because she camps it up and does lots of silly accents. She's the female version of Al Pacino, (or more like Bobby Cannavale).
Of course, Roberts has always been insufferable since she began believing her own stinky shit smelled like roses from heaven.
I'll be seeing this, but it will be on DVD or BluRay
- BTW, who is 'Alonso Duralde'?
I've never heard of this person. His review looks like it was written by a poorly educated community college student. But I don't have reason to doubt the film is that campy.
- Meryl's performances of late have been crossing into caricature territory. She's getting less and less subtle as she ages.
- [quote] how'd that happen?
I dropped out.
- Did he write for AfterElton at some point?
- r20 is extremely self-involved=who cares what you ALWAYS say?
- Duralde is a great big fat person
- "I've never heard of this person. His review looks like it was written by a poorly educated community college student."
You sound like a snob. And I'm not sure why you think he is "poorly educated" just because he wrote something you didn't like.
- I want to see it, even thought I'm not overly crazy about the leads.
- The movie has been getting lukewarm reviews since it debuted at some film festival back in September. They've got a turkey on their hands. And the Streep troll swore Meryl was getting her fourth Oscar for this.
Margot will be the lone acting nominee. And the only major nomination the film gets.
- r21 he reviews movies for The Wrap and he's part of the What the Flick review team. They review movies and television shows like Mad Men, GOT, Breaking Bad, Homeland and Walking Dead.
- I rarely defend Streep Troll, but most Oscar prognosticators assumed this would be an easy Oscar win for Streep based on the role.
Now she's fighting for fifth place, behind Blanchett, Bullock, Dench and Emma Thompson. And the only reason she's still in contention at all is that Meryl has a long history of earning filler nominations on name alone.
- I thought it was tremendous.
Phuck Philomena! The Wolf of Wall Streer can lick my cooch! This one is the reel deal.
- If R1's assessment is accurate, are we entering an era in which Meryl will become the new Susan Hayward?
Meryl in a remake of I WANT TO LIVE? The lines start forming at the box office NOW!
- What is Emma Thompson starring in? Where's Oprah on that list?
- Emma is in "Saving Mr. Banks," and Oprah will be campaigned as Supporting Actress, not as Lead.
- Emma in Mrs. Banks, Oprah is supporting
- And I like Forest Whitaker and Leo Dicaprio.
- I will not be doing any press for this film.
- Patty Duke? What is this, 1973? They actually want people to buy tickets to see this.
- the Patty Duke thing is a troll/DL inside joke thingy r39
- r40 I don't know about you, but when I wrote it I was serious nothing to do with the troll DL inside thingy
- The only actress coming out of this one with a nomination is Margo Martindale in supporting.
The fifth place - after Blanchett, Dench, Bullock, and Thompson, is now up for grabs. Too bad Alfre's role in 12 Years is solid supporting, or she'd be a shoo-in.
- The producers wanted Lucy for the role that Ms. Streep took, but Gary talked her out of it.
- r42, my fingers are crossed that it's Julia Louis-Dreyfuss; she's magnificent in "Enough Said."
- Marni Nixon should have played (or at least dubbed) Streep's role.
- [quote]I don't know about you, but when I wrote it I was serious nothing to do with the troll DL inside thingy
Exactly, Patti Duke has equated herself quite well in her career. With all due respect to Mrs. Gummer, nothing she has done in her work is this subtle and heart breaking as the scene at 14:55
- R46 exactly
- Alonso Duralde is quite well known as a film critic. He's also a hot daddy bear.
- R44, I think Louis-Dreyfuss will take the slot which was assumed was MS'. And Gandolfini will be nominated in Supporting. A lot of people love that movie and there's a groundswell of support to give it recognition at awards time.
- I will definitely see this one. It looks like a hoot.
- You're forgetting Amy Adams in American Hustle. If the film has good reviews I think she's in.
- I read a review that claimed J Law blows Adams off the screen and that Adams' role is borderline supporting, anyway.
- r33, funny you should mention Susan Hayward; Meryl's performance here totally had me thinking of Susan, especially in her more campy moments in "I'll Cry Tomorrow." (Of course, Susan DID get an Oscar nod for that performance, so....)
- Lynn Stairmaster swearing Louis-Dreyfuss will be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar means it will never happen.
- Why does this movie sound like "Steel Magnolias", another piece of guilty-pleasure, witless trash?
- Because, r55, that's precisely what it is. Only worse.
- Sigh. In retrospect, I wish Glenn Close had gotten the Meryl Streep role.
- I already turned down the role you're playing, M.
- And yet Duralde's review is listed as FRESH in Rotten Tomatoes. Overall 71% so far, although that needle is bound to move up and down for the next month.
- Lucy had the Meryl role but Gary talked her out of it.
- R60, meet R43.
- Oh, shut the fuck up, R54, I'm entitled to my opinion.
I'm hearing someone named Paulina Garcia is pretty stunning in a Chilean film called Gloria and she could end up with a nomination. And before you start shrieking how impossible that would be remember Norma Aleandro and Fernanda Montenegro.
- Jessica Lange should have gotten the Merly role. Seriously.
- What R63 said. I would have loved to have seen that.
- This sounds like a Lifetime movie blown up to ridiculous proportions.
- Jane Fonda should've gotten the Meryl role.
- Agree, although I've nothing bad to say about Meryl, she just isn't crazy enough for this role. This is an Estelle Parsons, Geraldine page type role. So who so you cast for the movie version? At least Lange....Ellen Burstyn would have been great although maybe too old for the producers but I don't think so....
- But someone else was saying Meryl and Julia were chewing up the...so which is it? Too crazy or not crazy enough?
- Sissy Spacek can play crazy eccentric like nobody's business.
- Meryl has jumped the shark.
- Meryl should've shit in a sink. Audiences really like that!
- r20 = Helen Mirren.
- R63 is SO fucking right, it hurts.
Why DIDN'T Jessica Muthafuckin Lange get this role? Why is it that tired old, over-exposed Meryl Streep must instantly get whatever famous Broadway-to-film leading role there is?
Does anyone thing that Lange was ever considered? She would have been magic in that role.
- Add to that Jessica's own past with Sam Shepard, which would've added layers to the film (even though Violet and Beverly only have 1 scene together).
- R70: At least we're off the hook.
- I admit that I know little about this piece, but from the review posted by OP, I see several parallels with "Crimes of the Heart."
There was a piece which was a brilliant play, yet was nearly ruined on the big screen.
- I can't wait to see this movie. A cat fight at Christmas? Sounds like yet another box office success for Meryl and Julia.
No to Jessica Lange in big screen adaptations - she is box office poison and studios will not give her any lead role.
- Crimes of the heart was awful movie....DK was the worst.
- Do you think Susan Lucci could have done it justice?
- Not Susan Lucci, but maybe Kim Zimmer.
- Bette Midler should have gotten the role.
- Marvin's Room also sucked. Just throwing that in there. These movies are not art - they're as cookie cutter as a Marvel movie.
- The Meryl role in the paly wasn't even that interesting. The only exciting thing was wondering if the aged actress would drop dead from climbing that awful house set with four flights of stairs ten times a show.
- I'm boycotting the film because of Julia's cuntiness.
- How is Margo Martindale?
- r85, she's good; she, Julianne Nicholson and Chris Cooper give the best performances in the film.
- Sounds like removing the proscenium arch exposed this material for what it really is, y'know, for you slow people in the back.
- R87 LOL I was just reading a paper for school about stage reconstructions and this made me pee laughing.
- Don't forget Iron Fucking Weed. That was a big piece of shit. The shittiest shit that ever shat.
- I'm glad I'm sticking with Broadway...
- I'd still like to know what an Englishman and a Scot are doing in a movie set in Oklahoma.