Review – August: Osage County

Poster for 2014 drama August: Osage County

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 24th January 2014
Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: John Wells
Writer: Tracy Letts
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin
Synopsis: A dysfunctional family meet following the death of a relative, bringing old and new issues to the surface.

 

 

Tracy Letts plays are gradually moving from the boards to the multiplex. Recent years have seen William Friedkin adapt Killer Joe and Bug into acclaimed thrillers, and now from the camera of John Wells comes this incredibly disappointing, awards-baiting adaptation of Letts’ Pulitzer-winning black comedy play August: Osage County

Noisy, foul-mouthed matriarch Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) is distraught after the disappearance of death of her husband (Sam Shepard) and calls her family to gather around her, from sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband (Chris Cooper) to abrasive eldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts). As barbs are exchanged and sequels bubble to the surface, the family unit begins to crumble.

| "I’m a drug addict. I love drug."

There’s an inherent problem with adapting stage plays for the cinema, and it’s a problem that August: Osage County never manages to deal with. That danger is that the single locations in which plays are performed often completely restrict the kinetic potential of a movie.

In the case of this film, it renders the entire thing inert. Scenes do not play out as depictions of reality, feeling more like a series of people reading lines to each other. The transfer from stage to screen is lazy and fails to account for the differences between the two media.

The only moment at which August: Osage County comes alive is its centrepiece dinner scene. Even here, the lacklustre direction and weak adaptation is still a problem, but the story muddles through on the strength of its acting. Meryl Streep has grabbed the plaudits, but it’s Chris Cooper who is the understated star of these scenes. The rest of the film is stolen by Julia Roberts, whose performance as a young woman worried about becoming her mother, gets all of the facets right of a deeply confused part.

| "You don’t get it, do you? You don’t get it! I am running things now!"

But there’s never any escaping the notion that, despite its length and goliath status as a story, there is never any substance to August: Osage County. It feels more like a load of actors in a room sharing lines than people trying to be other people.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Poop!

Despite its promising cast and sizeable buzz for awards season, August: Osage County is an incredibly dull two hours in the company of a detestable and only occasionally amusing array of characters.

The transfer from the stage has left the production inert and without any sense of the movement necessary for cinema to work. It often comes down to talented people firing off relentlessly talky dialogue whilst sitting still in a room. Not exactly ground-breaking stuff.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

4 thoughts on “Review – August: Osage County

  • 02/02/2014 at 09:22
    Permalink

    I think it’s safe to say I am in (almost) complete disagreement with this review. i do agree that the best scene of the whole movie is the dinner scene. I thought the the movie was great – one of the best of the current Oscar season. Certainly one of the best I saw in 2013. Some specific points (because i haven’t written a post of August yet and in giving my fully formed opinion here I may as well just write my own post)

    – I am the kind of person who lives my life one room at a time – it’s always been that way and that is how I view the world. Play-like settings in film make sense to me and even offer something interesting that puts me more into the movie and the story is about them at ‘home’, not them wandering around in the town and they are always in one place because the whole thing is about their inability to escape
    – Julia Roberts is not worried about becoming her mother. She IS her mother and is in denial. She doesn’t want to think it’s possible because of the sheer contempt she has for the woman. So she’s not worried about becoming her. It would be more appropriate to say she’s worried that she already is her mother.
    – For me, few films have as much substance as August. It was honest. I connected with the family (if you can even call them that) and each individual situation on some level. There was substance in the film, and even if you didn’t see it, it was still there.

    I think that August: Osage County is one of those stories where you either get it or you don’t. I’m not sure I could convince someone who disliked it to ever consider it ‘good’ because the strength and the beauty of this film require an true understanding of each of the characters and how they interact with each other as well as an eye for the symbolism of cinematography, and then proceed to have an appreciation of that sort of film making. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a very hard movie to love, so i understand why you don’t like it. i don’t like that you don’t like it, but hey. This discussion wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if we were in agreement about the film.

    This might be a weird question, but I am curious: What specifically made the characters so detestable to you?

    Reply
    • 03/02/2014 at 11:32
      Permalink

      I struggle to contest the points you make in your assessment as it’s clear your reading of the film was entirely different to mine. I’m genuinely pleased that other people have found more in it to enjoy.

      I will however address your question at the end. My problem was that the characters were, almost without exception, utterly horrible to each other. All families argue, and admittedly some have more reason to than others, but these people were all held each other in complete contempt. This made it considerably harder to sympathise when misfortune widened the divisions between them.

      Reply
      • 06/02/2014 at 05:55
        Permalink

        That makes sense. For me, how horrible they were made it easier to sympathize. Just based on my background, and the clear contempt they had for each other, there were some parts where I actually found them to be impressively civil. I tend to focus on what isn’t said rather than what is said. And misfortune is rarely civil, at least not on the inside. This made the whole thing very real fr me. And, I think, I would have liked it less if they were all trying to be at peace with one another (other than the two or three who were really trying). It would have been sadder, but it would have felt like sadness for the sake of sadness (if that makes sense) rather than the chaotic an illogical truth. We weren’t meant to like or exactly connect with the characters so much as view them, I think. And I appreciate that. So that’s my view there.

        Reply

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