WARNING — IF YOU LIVE IN A CAVE AND READ BY CANDLELIGHT A PLOT SPOLER IS CONTAINED HEREIN: The Weinstein Co’s August: Osage County, which screened early this evening at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, feels a tiny bit abbreviated and doesn’t deliver quite as much of a full-on emotional wallop as Tracy Letts‘ Tony Award-winning stage play, but it’s strong and direct and satisfying enough to give the play’s admirers what they’re looking for. I was intrigued and attuned from start to finish. And the film certainly delivers at least four…make that five top-notch performances — first and foremost Meryl Streep as the bitchy matriarch Violet Weston (an all-but-guaranteed Best Actress nominee), Julia Roberts as her angry daughter Barbara, Margo Martindale as Mattie Fae Aiken, Julianne Nicholson as Ivy Weston and Juliette Lewis as Karen Weston.
I would call August: Osage County a very strongly hit double…okay, a triple due to fielder error and the runner sliding in. Whereas the play was a wowser grand slam, or so it seemed when I first saw it in ’08. The bottom line, I suspect, is that the acting is going to get more awards attention than the film itself, and there’s nothing wrong with that scenario. A:OC might very possibly end up a Best Picture contender but it doesn’t hold a candle, horsepower-wise, to 12 Years A Slave. I’m sorry but it just doesn’t. For the simple reason that Slave is a flat-out masterpiece and August: Osage County isn’t.
The Broadway stage version was a longish, sprawling, fully-worked-through drama of rage, dysfunction and too much prescription medication — a three-hour litany of familial boils, abrasions and eruptions. The film version, directed by John Wells, does the original material justice — it’s a strong family wrestling match but it doesn’t feel as ample. It’s shorter (the TIFF program notes say 130 minutes but the film was over at just under the two-hour mark) and it just doesn’t seem to seep in and spread out and stretch its legs as much as the play. I wanted to swim laps in the pool of it, but it’s more of a sitting-in-a-hot-tub experience. Soothing and stimulating for sure, but not as much of a workout.
Streep owns it, but the final moment, I have to say, lacks cojones. The play ended, quite fittingly, with the savage-mannered Violet abandoned by her family and left all alone with…I forgot who she was listening to in the play but in the film it’s Eric Clapton‘s “Lay Down Sally.” The film shows us this, but it ends with Julia Roberts driving around the Oklahoma countryside in a pickup truck, evidently feeling some kind of relief about having left the Weston home or whatever. It feels a bit mushy. Wells and Weinstein should have manned up and gone with the tougher, more concise finish.
That’s all I have time to write for now, but August: Osage County has nothing to worry about in terms of gathering strong reviews, award-season acclaim and perhaps some spirited box-office action.