The All American Dysfunctional Family.
I was lucky enough to attend the 2nd world premiere screening of August: Osage County at the Elgin Theatre at the Toronto Film Festival. However, unlike its World Premiere screening, which took place the night before, this screening didn’t have any of the big name celebrities that appear in the film sitting in the theater with us. Instead, the film’s director, John Wells was in attendance to introduce the film and talk a little bit about the World Premiere audience and their reaction from the night before.
For those who may not be aware, August: Osage County is based on a popular stage play. Both the film and stage play can be best described as a dark dramedy, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the works of Tracy Letts This big screen adaptation features an all-star cast that includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, and Benedict Cumberbatch just to name a few of the notable faces who are a part of this film. As for the story, the film/play focuses on the Weston family, who are all coming together again because their father, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) has gone missing.
Now, I must first and foremost admit that I have never seen the stage play that this film is based on, so I am reviewing this solely as a film and not as an stage to screen adaptation. Now with that out of the way, I must admit that I found myself heavily engrossed with the story and characters. Its definitely a dark film and while a lot of the subject matter that is tackled such as addiction isn’t usually funny, Tracy Letts’ screenplay is darkly comedic and often hilarious. The film opens with a scene in which Beverly is discussing his life to a new housekeeper, who is only referred to as an “Injun” throughout the film. Beverly explains to her that his wife takes pills and he drinks. Right off the bat as an audience member, you begin to think “wow this is going to be a “heavy” film”, but what’s even stranger is that it only gets darker as it goes on.
If I had to start anywhere when reviewing August: Osage County it would have to be with the acting. Unlike most films that feature an all-star cast, this film actually uses all its actors to showcase why they are in fact great actors. The only exception to the cast is Benedict Cumberbatch, who is vastly underused and wasted in the film. Don’t get me wrong its not that he is bad in the film, but considering how he has become such a household name over the past year, this film uses him for a character that gets probably about 10 minutes of total screen time. But when you put Cumberbatch to the side, this is definitely one of those films where you as an audience member will want to rave about the performances as soon as the end credits begin to roll.
Lets just be honest and admit right here and now that there is very little surprise when I say that Meryl Streep nails the role of Violet on the head. The woman can play almost any role that is handed to her and she has several awards in her trophy case that prove that. As Violet, Streep is the perfect mix of dramatic, controlling, and crazy. She is obviously a woman who has been through a lot, has become extremely bitter over the years, and has decided to overuse prescription drugs as a way to alleviate the pain. There are several moments in this film where Violet calls out several of her family members mainly at the dinner table that showcases just how amazing Streep is as a leading lady. Out of all the actors and actresses on-screen, Streep gets the most screen time out of everyone involved and I don’t think a single second of it goes unused.
For me, the biggest surprise in terms of performance was Julia Roberts, who plays one of Violet’s daughters named Barbara. To be honest, outside of a few of her more notable roles that include Erin Brockovich and Closer, I personally always found “America’s Sweetheart” to be overrated as an actress. With August it clearly shows what Roberts is capable of with the right material and the right director. As much as it shocks me to admit this, Roberts’ is the film’s standout performance because how much emotion her character displays interacting with Violet as well as her other family members including her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) and her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor). Roberts has a lot of scene with Streep but there is one where they are arguing about eating fish and I have to admit the scene is both comedic and powerful at the same time.
Besides the above mentioned leads, you have a host of supporting actors that include from Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, and Dermot Mulroney, who round out the cast. There is a hilarious dinner conversation at one point where Cooper and Breslin discuss why Jean doesn’t eat meat. This scene goes on for a good 5 minutes and its an absolute riot. At one point, Chris Cooper’s character Charles pretends to be having a heart attack and everyone stops talking and asks him what’s wrong. He simply responds with “I just had a big bite of fear.”
While I can keep on going about the performances, I’m going to move on from this topic simply by stating that I can safely say that everyone besides Cumberbatch is amazing and used in a way that really showcases them as solid actors. All these actors really bring these characters and their demented personalities to life. Each actor has at least one scene where they shine above and beyond the other person or persons whom they are on screen with. I wouldn’t be surprised if come award season several of these actors and actresses get nominated for best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, and best supporting actor.
As far as the story goes, I have to say that I don’t think this one will be for everyone. It really is well written and I don’t think anyone can really deny that Tracy Letts is one hell of a writer. This family is truly dysfunctional and I love how Letts writes these characters with such ease and gives each of them their own unique personality that makes them stand out as individuals. This film not only talks about death, but it also talks about addiction, marriage, cheating, and incest. Yes, you read that right, incest is a big part of the story. As for those of you who are fans of the play, the cut of the film, which premiered at Toronto did feature a different ending than the one that is in the actual play. *SPOILER* The play ends with Violet feeling abandoned by her family and the Toronto screening ended with Barbara driving off alone. *End SPOILER* I was reading that audiences who are fans of the play seemed to be on the fence about the ending, while some liked it, others did not. There is already been a discussion with the Weinstein Company, who is releasing the film in December, that they might change the ending to match the one in the play.
All in all, August: Osage County is a great film about one truly screwed up family. The acting is spectacular and the story is dark, comedic, and dramatic. It is definitely a film that I can see getting a lot of buzz around award season and for those who are fans of the so-called oscar bait films, well August: Osage County is without a doubt one of those films. I don’t see this film appealing to your typical movie-goer just because of how dialogue heavy and character driven the film is but if you are a fan of those types of films like I am, well you will probably love this one. I can safely say that August along with several others that I saw at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival will be films that will be generating a lot of buzz as we move closer to the end of the year and into award season.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for August: Osage County is a 8 out of 10.