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?
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.