Knockout Perfs In Highly Respectable Osage County

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 LettsTony 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.

  • Charlie_Driggs

    Why must you always give away endings, you aggravating old man?

    • Because the play has been performed all over the world, you whiny-assed, provincial, slow-on-the-pickup turd

      • Charlie_Driggs

        Not everyone has had the privilege to see the play, Jeff, and today was the movie’s FIRST SCREENING. You must be such a miserable, sad person that you are so consistently compelled to discuss the endings of films before anyone has had the chance to see them.

        I feel bad for you. (But I feel worse for people who have to wait on you.)

        You have lost another reader. Congrats!

        • Thom Phoolery

          I’m sure Ray Sinclair will stick around.

        • Bye!!!

      • You still need to throw on SPOILER ALERT with more regularity but I’ll upvote this because “whiny-assed, provincial, slow-on-the-pickup turd” is priceless.

      • dinilesizwe geya

        not here in south Africa

    • bastard in a basket

      Not completely trying to defend Wells here (putting “Spoiler warning” would have been the decent thing to do and I always say no one has the right to bitch once fair warning is given) but if you’re so averse to spoilers why wouldn’t you stop reading at the sentence “Streep owns it, but the final moment…” or “The play ended, quite fittingly with…”? I know I stopped. If you keep reading after that, then you WANT to be spoiled and can’t resist the temptation. That is not Well’s fault. So be an adult about it and take responsibility.

  • Elëonora Dusè

    I’m tired of trying to figure out this film. Weinstein needs to email everyone an FYC pamphlet so we know all the category placements and who has a shot. I need one of Margo Martindale or Julianne Nicholson to be nominated. both fabulous actresses.

  • Kevin Daly

    The play also used “Lay Down Sally.”

  • DeanD

    Finding the original play a trite, un-insightful mess of cliches and trying to explore familial drama it has no lived-in knowledge of, I’m still interested in seeing the movie just for the performances, Meryl especially. And this review reinforced that.

    • Lou Rawls’ Ego


      Another Antics of My Neighbors story.


  • berg

    … so is there a fried chicken leg in this movie?

  • Jake Bart

    As expected. This never looked as if it was going to blow the other contenders out of the water. The sour buzz that had been gathering in the previous weeks was obviously a non-story. You take Streep and give her something this juicy, it’s impossible to NOT generate Oscar talk.

  • Andrea

    It’s the moment to Weinstein realises The Immigrant to make Marion Cotillard gets to Oscar for her wonderful performance and master class of act that she does in the film

    • Yet another “Marion Cotillard acts with her watery eyes as she suffers and suffers” performance.

      • Andrea

        I don’t think you are the best person to qualify the best performances. All critic with good taste shall love Marion performance in The Immigrant. She is really superb in the film and deserves to arrive to Oscar as nominated or winner.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        was head and shoulders above anything
        any hollywood ‘actress’ has done
        in years

        • Thom Phoolery

          And Dennis Quaid was great too.

          • Gerard Kennelly

            AT ANY PRICE is
            my favorite film of 2013
            best actor will either
            be dicaprio or hanks
            but quaid will win all the critics awards

  • Alan Burnett

    Wow, Wells, the passive aggressive warning at the beginning is REALLY not the way to go for you. If you were someone whose opinion was widely respected, then maybe others could put up with that type of aggression. It’s like if Ben Affleck was, like, a Tommy Lee Jones-style super-jerk in real life: one of these men has the talent to pull this off, the other really, really doesn’t.

    • JR

      A simple SPOILER warning is all it takes, without the snark.

      I haven’t seen the play, but I also didn’t read the body of Jeff’s post because I know how much he loves to spoil plots for us rubes in flyover country.

      • Alan Burnett

        I actually have seen the play, so I knew what he was going to talk about when he mentioned the ending. I am pretty sure his adaptation/true story “rule” is bullshit too, because – if I started blabbing about the ending of ‘Gone Girl’ – Wells would be the first one to bitch about that. Wells is like Willie Stark: an extreme simpleton who becomes corrupted with power and starts to think he’s actually got talent or intellect. Wells, you don’t, stop pretending that you do.

        • Burnett — There’s only one way this scolding & hammering can end, and that’s with me zotzing your ass.

          • Correcting Jeff

            Great… ANOTHER fucking spoiler.

          • Alan Burnett

            No, this ends only one way: with you and Kenny scissoring one another, ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’-style whilst DZ watches and jerks off. You know it, they know it, don’t deny it.

    • I fixed the spelling. I wrote the spoiler warning as I did because spoiler whiner complaints are due to a class or strata of people who live in cultural gopher holes. I don’t care what you guys say — it’s NOT A SECRET that the play is about what a snarly, truth-telling bitch Violet Weston is, and how she pays the price for this in the end. I will not tailor my reactions to films so that they don’t upset the gopher-hole set. There’s no point in saying this for the umpteenth time but I’ll say it anyway — it’s the singer, not the song. It’s not the story that is told but HOW IT IS TOLD — the skill, the subtlety, the camerawork, the timing, the pacing, the emotional directness or indirectness involved, etc. For 90% to 95% of the world a movie is entirely about subject matter — that’s all they care about. “And then what happens?” is all they want to know. I appreciate the value of a good story told as much as the next person, but when the synopsis and the theme have been fully put out there and discussed and reviewed and when the play has been performed and re-performed worldwide for years on end, IT’S NOT A SPOILER.

      • brenkilco

        Ok, you’re not giving away the ending to a mystery. But you’re logic is seriously flawed and you need to be a little more circumspect
        The play Sleuth was written forty years ago. Been on DVD nearly as long and a fixture of summer stock for decades. If it’s not the most performed play of the second half of the twentieth century I bet its damned close. And Ill bet not one person in a hundred under forty knows the story, any more than they know the crazy reveal at the end of Virginia Woolf. Don’t think everyone lives in a gopher hole just because you live in a bubble.

        • Very few people under 40 know or care anything about the world that existed before they came along or came of age in the ’90s or whenever. That’s on THEIR head, not mine. It’s never been easier to learn just about everything about almost anything — you can do it in seconds, no more going to the library — and younger GenXers and GenY can’t be bothered to pick up their iPhone or an Android and check out the Wiki page on this or that topic. “Sleuth who? Some guy named Laurence Olivier? An old play…what? Not fast enough, not new enough…I need my ADD lifestyle, homie.”

          • BromanBrolanski

            get off my lawn.

        • Michael Gebert

          For the record, showed Sleuth to my kids (14 and 11) and pretty much as soon as a certain character appeared, they were all “Isn’t that…” For whatever reason (the actor having aged in the interim, maybe), the big reveal now seems obvious. Not that that detracted from the fun.

          • brenkilco

            Works a whole lot better in the theatre, no closeups, where even the actor bios in the program are not to be trusted. Didn’t help that the indivdidual in question is so distinctive looking. Tough to disguise eyes.

      • Alan Burnett

        Discussing the differences between the play and the film is fine; discussing the differences between the ending of the play and film is also fine. When you give it away in a FILM REVIEW, that’s a problem. You are NOT writing an academic essay, you are NOT writing a book on adaptations, you ARE writing a fucking REVIEW. Yes? No? Good? Bad? Those are the simple fucking questions that any reader of a REVIEW wants to know. This isn’t criticism: Manny Farber or Andrew Sarris aren’t looking down at your writing and holding it up to their standards.

        Logically, you could have addressed your concerns in the review, then expanded upon those issues in a later post when others had the chance to see the film and be a part of the conversation. But I guess you’ll be too busy for that: you have got to see the first fifteen minutes of ten films right and then attend another five parties before you had a chance to talk, umm, film. Once again, everyone else has to deal with your narcissism and obnoxiousness in thinking a jerk-off, thoughtless, mediocre-as-fuck post needed a spoiler because your writing wasn’t good enough to carry the thing. I guess you were right, then: it really is about the singer, not the song.

        • Oh, fuck off. I know how to write well enough. And I know what I’m talking about here. My thoughts are expressed clearly enough. The cop-out ending in “August: osage County” is a major factor, I feel, because endings can sometimes be half the game. If a film ends on just the right note it can make the whole film seem whole and complete even if it’s not upon closer inspection. Endings are a Very Big Deal, and there’s no question that Julia Roberts driving around in a pickup truck is NOT a very good ending, and in fact is a rather mushy and inconclusive one. Wells simply lacked the balls to go with the hard ending in the play with Violet all alone and listening to Eric Clapton.

          • Guest

            so are you one of the gopher hole set since you have no idea who Big Star is? you can’t have it both ways, sporto.

          • Alan Burnett

            Yeah, that’s GREAT fucking CRITICISM, buddy: explaining what occurred in the plot. Amazing. Truly inspired. Why not do a play-by-play (pardon the pun) and just run off everything that occurred on screen?

  • Steven Kaye

    I’m more than happy to see Meryl Streep join the 3 other unfortunates who will lose to Cate Blanchett.

    • Gerard Kennelly

      Mary Elizabeth Winstead was ignored
      by the oscars last year
      this year Lindsay Burdge in A TEACHER will be snub

  • Gil Padilla

    Please spare me from the upcoming Streep adulation and ass kissing regarding another Oscar nomination. This is what will happen in the coming months.

  • Lucky To be Alive

    You saw a different movie than I did. I saw an unhinged over-the-top melodrama with almost every actor burdened by a “gunning for Oscar” tattoo on the forehead, Ms Streep particularly ripping through her stunning repertoire of hesitations, slurs, staggers, accents, growls and the like. She’s an unparalleled American actress but when she’s unleashed, watch out! But that’s the director working. If Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf had been so shamelessly directed, we’d probably say the same thing about Taylor.

    Exactly how much faux-tragedy can be shoehorned into a two-hour drama: incest, infidelity, child abuse, what seems to be mental retardation but might be only the result of child abuse, suicide, alcoholism, dementia, what have I left out? And the ending, subject so much comment above. Is it a spoiler to say this is a tragedy without catharsis, which is another way of saying it’s shite?

    • benskelly

      I love people like you who feel so cool and contrarian by trashing incredibly talented people like Streep. She is ten times the actress that Elizabeth Taylor ever was. Your review is not insightful or helpful, which is another way of saying it’s shite.

  • Gerard Kennelly

    great review
    i am looking forward to this oscar contender
    let’s hope meryl gets oscar number 3

    • hupto

      You mean #4.

      Am I the only one who’s noticed that the vast majority of Best Actress buzzees are previous winners? Streep, Roberts, Blanchett, Bullock, Cotillard, Thompson, Lawrence, Winslet, et al? Is there no fresh blood out there?

      • Gerard Kennelly

        Lindsay Burdge – A TEACHER

  • benskelly

    Sorry to hear John Wells fumbles it. I thought the play was an American masterpiece.

    • Gerard Kennelly

      Mcconaughey is doing amazing these days