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Monday, December 2, 2013



2013, 130 minutes
Rated R for language including sexual references, and for drug material

Review by Joshua Handler

This is how adaptations of stage plays should be done.  John Wells' film adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name is a moving, funny, and powerfully-acted film featuring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abagail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepherd, and Misty Upham.  This is the best ensemble of 2013 and everyone gives this film their all.  

The film tells the story of the Weston family, the most dysfunctional family you could ever dream of.  Violet (Meryl Streep), the matriarch, is a pill-popping cancer-ridden woman whose husband goes missing.  Upon his disappearance, her daughters, sister, and all of their families come to Violet's house for the first time in years and all hell breaks loose.

The acting in this film is jaw-dropping.  Meryl Streep leads the ensemble as Violet and, as usual, gives a performance for the ages.  Streep is a chameleon and can turn herself into any character.  As Violet, she is completely unhinged and chews the scenery in the best possible way.  Streep commands every scene and while her performance sometimes borders on camp, she is able to keep it in check and make us care for the monstrous Violet.  Violet is pathetic - she has cancer, pops pills, and has a complete disdain for her family.  However, the pathetic nature of Violet is why I cared most for her.  While Violet is always nasty, she is, at the base, a bitter old woman who never had a chance in life.  In some sequences, Violet isn't in the right state of mind and Streep convincingly plays these sequences (she proved she could master old-age mental illness in The Iron Lady).  The highlight of this performance, though, is watching Streep deliver her one-liners.  She seems to relish every single one and performs them with bravado.

The supporting cast is equally as incredible as Streep.  Margo Martindale is a perfect match for Streep, playing Mattie Fae, Violet's sister.  Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis are two other standouts.  Nicholson, Lewis, and Julia Roberts play Violet's three daughters and their scenes together are beautiful.  Julia Roberts (a really talented actress) is hit-or-miss - more hit than miss though.  There are moments where dialogue comes out forced (that may be the screenplay, though), but when Roberts hits, she hits it out of the park.  Chris Cooper is also strong as Mattie Fae's husband, Charles.

John Wells' direction of this film isn't showy, which suits the material perfectly.  The screenplay is so powerful and the actors are so strong that his decision to let them carry the movie was a wise one.  Wells' direction is also impressive because he is able to balance his huge cast and let everyone shine.

It goes without saying that Tracy Letts' screenplay is dynamite.  That being said, from page to screen, some things don't feel quite as nasty.  The most notable change, though, is the ending - this ending in the film is much more uplifting.  While this ending works and is a relief after the nastiness that precedes it, it isn't nearly as powerful as the original ending.  This is a slightly toned-down version of August: Osage County that may anger die-hard fans of the stage play.  Keep in mind, however, that about an hour was cut from the play in order to make it a manageable length for the screen.

Overall, August: Osage County is a powerful, stunningly-acted piece of drama.  While it has its flaws, its cumulative impact is so powerful that it makes up for any of those flaws.  August: Osage County is the best kind of Oscar bait - it is a film that is begging for awards, but one that is passionately-made.  The people who made this film actually seem to care about it.  August: Osage County should please awards voters and audiences alike when it releases on Christmas Day.  It is one of the best dramas of 2013.


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