Earlier today Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet ran a likeliest Best Picture contenders piece, and I was surprised that he called John Wells‘ August: Osage County (Weinstein Co., 11.8) one of his “other side of the cut” films, i.e. not a top-tenner. In so doing he lumped it in with The Fifth Estate, Lee Daniels‘ The Butler (an all-but-guaranteed shortfaller), Elysium and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.
I immediately recalled that Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil had shared something a bit dismissive about August Osage County, which I saw on Broadway about five or six years ago and went nuts for. I’ve always figured that with the five-Tony-Award pedigree and the prospect of a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts that it would have to be a heavy year-end hitter.
So I wrote them both as follows: “Can you guys briefly explain your basic prejudice about August: Osage County? Tom, you told me months ago that you don’t see it working all that well as a film, and that one-set, dialogue-driven, Long Day’s Journey Into Night-like plays of this sort don’t translate all that well into movies and so on. Is it because John Wells is the director, and his last film, Company Men, wasn’t all that great? I was hugely impressed by the play when I saw it in NYC…what was it, five years ago?”
Brevet said “it’s not necessarily a prejudice as much as it’s up against a lot of strong, though unseen, competition. Plus a talky dark comedy from John Wells just doesn’t jump out at me as an instant Best Picture front-runner beyond the actors that will surely be competing for nominations.”
O’Neil answered thusly: “I’m skeptical about another stage-to-screen transfer of a Broadway show that won Best Play. Look at the recent disappointments (War Horse, Doubt, God of Carnage) and fiascos (History Boys, Proof). It’s better to have lost Best Play like Frost/Nixon did to Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia. F/N was a terrific film that will endure.
“I think producers like Harvey who invest in both Hollywood film and Broadway theater get blinding hard-ons for shows that have overblown reputations because they won awards on Broadway. Let’s be honest — there’s so little new, quality-level theater on Broadway competing for Best Play that lightweight puff like History Boys can win. That doesn’t mean it should be made into a movie. Anybody who’s actually seen August: Osage County knows that nothing at all happens for three hours except for an intoxicated, hellcat momma staggering around the stage, shrieking wisecracks and insults. The wisecracks aren’t really clever, the characters are one-dimensional and…wait, does it have a plot? I don’t remember seeing one back in 2008 when I suffered through a performance at the Music Box Theater.”
Obviously no one (myself included) knows anything at this stage. Well, I know I loved the play and that it’s a corrosive family drama and that all the theatre critics went apeshit over it. Most of us would be shocked, I think, if at least some of that power didn’t translate to the screen. But we know right now that there’s a little bit of resistance out there, however brusque or premature it might sound.
The August: Osage County producers bought this house — “the historic Boulanger home north of Pawhuska” — to shoot in. “The home and 22 acres, including several barns and ponds, were sold by Michael and Deborah McKinney [and] went for the asking.”