August: Osage County


Some plays make great movies, and some plays just make good movies. This black comedy falls more into the latter like Roman Polanski's Carnage, John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole and John Patrick Shanley's Doubt. Tracy Lett's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning story is definitely the strong point here, but like all the previously mentioned plays-turned-movies, the acting are the aces here, and with a large cast like this almost everybody had their moments. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, besides being the biggest names here, also gave the best performances of the ensemble with Roberts a particular stand out. She definitely has been missed.

John Wells was an able director but perhaps a bit too safe and restrained. That said, not even Polanski could get Carnage to Oscar glory. However, Wells was at times too predictable and mildly overly melodramatic in his scenes.

Tracy Letts adapted his own award-winning play for the big screen and, having not seen the original play itself, I would not be surprised if there were changes made. However, what I see on the big screen is a richly dark family comedy that spoke of an estranged family with each member bearing a secret that all just comes tumbling out in one cathartic exodus. The reveals not only peels off layers of each character but also illuminate the themes of blame, self-responsibility, karma and, in a morbid sort of way, love. Throughout all that, there were many moments of comedic gems which really incited genuine laughters and smiles. But I think like most great plays, in the translation to the silver screen some form of intimacy and immediacy is lost in the words. And with big stars, we tend to over focus on the physical performances rather than the power of the words. As such, sometimes, the material gets overshadowed. Oh, and that epilogue is totally extraneous.

Streep gets another Oscar nomination for her role here as the matriarch of the family and I sincerely thinks she deserves it a lot more than Sandra Bullock for Gravity. Although, there are times when Ms. Streep begins to slightly overact and her accents slips up. Her dining table scene may be the most showy, but it is her quietly powerful swing-scene with her daughters and her final scene with Johanna that shows her brilliance.

Roberts has been missed, and it is easy to forget that she too has an Oscar for Erin Brockovich, and is not just the Pretty Woman. And here, she reminds us why she got an Oscar. She is at times fiercely independent and protective, and at moments silently fragile and vulnerable. Throughout the whole time we get a sense that she is a woman torn between family and self, love and responsibility. Her exasperation at things beyond her control tears her apart, and Roberts portrayed all these very convincingly. Unfortunately for her, the competition for this year's Best Supporting Actress is just too strong, but her nomination reminds us again of her true ability.

Briefly, Juliette Lewis was perfectly cast as the youngest, slightly more flighty daughter, however her beau in the show, Dermot Mulroney is typecast and rather boring. Julienne Nicholson was also excellent as the straight-woman to her other two sisters, and with Masters of Sex on her resume too, she is turning in very fine work these days. Her beau Benedict Cumberbatch, unlike Mulroney, was totally acting against type, all hunched up, mousey and stuttering, but pity his role was not really significant. Then we have the two older folks: the very excellent Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper. Martindale should deserve a nomination too alongside Roberts. She was a woman of restrained strength with her own secrets to bear. With Cooper, their last scene together was a heartache. Lastly, Abigail Breslin was kind of wasted to act as the broody, insolent, rebellious teenager, and Ewan McGregor barely had much of a time to develop an interesting backstory or category.

This show will be remembered as the one where Meryl Streep screams at Julia Roberts and Roberts jumps Streep. A dark family dramedy that was generally very well acted and in the end may give you pause to examine your own relationships with your family. One very memorable line early in the show, and I paraphrase from memory goes: "If we were able to see the future, we would probably not get out of bed."

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