Ah, Oscar season. A time when studios rush all their dramas to the movie theaters in a desperate bid to get all the awards. Sometimes it works but often it crashes and burns because of the over-sentimentality of it all (except in the case of The King’s Speech…can’t quite explain that one). Still, sometimes in the chaos of it all appears a film that’s better than you hoped and probably not going to get the recognition it deserves. Such are the Academy Awards.
Let’s take a look at August: Osage County.
August: Osage County isn’t about your typical, or maybe it is. The Weston clan is dominated by complacent men and mean-spirited women out in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. One hot August, Beverly Weston kills himself and all his daughters (Barbara, Ivy and Karen) come home, first to find him, then to mourn him. Violet, his wife, has mouth cancer and is severally addicted to painkillers, making her cruel and also unreachable. As with most dysfunctional family dramas, ugly truths are revealed, tears are shed and no one leaves happy.
In transition from play to movie and of course movie to screen, we lose some of the more important subtext. At the end of the play, Johann recites the famous T.S. Eliot line “This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends,” thus having Johnna tied back to Beverly as Violet’s caretaker. We also never see the scene when Johnna and Jean, Barbara’s daughter, hang out, leaving a lot subtext out when she beats Steve after he attempts to molest Jean. Still the transition from stage to screen is done nearly flawlessly, with a script from original playwright Tracey Letts.
I will say Meryl Streep gives a performance deserving of an award. Not that Streep isn’t a great actress but she has gotten awards for mediocre parts. This is one she deserves to win for but won’t because of American Hustle. Streep shows off her diversity and subtly in a role of a bitter but afraid old addict. Roberts meets Streep scene for scene as eldest daughter Barbara, but still preserves too much of that pretty perfectness to be as gritty as Streep. Cumberbatch is adorable as the shy Little Charles, making his romance with Julianne Nicholson’s Ivy easily my favorite part of the movie, which it really shouldn’t be. The only performance I didn’t enjoy was Dermont Mulroney, mostly because he looks too nice and speaks too smoothly to come off like the sleaze-ball he’s supposed to be — it just seemed like weird miscasting. Overall, the performances really are excellent at drawing you into the emotional torment of the Weston family.
On the technical side of things, the film really gets the look and feel of middle-of-nowhere plains Oklahoma pretty well, though I’m not sure if they shot on location or not. There’s not much to say in terms of costuming, but the overall design of the house feels lived in and homey. It also feels confined enough to be restricting and open enough for action. The cinematography adds as much to the feel of the movie as the writing and music, which makes it more of an experience than just a film.
In the end, August: Osage County is a great film based on a great play and you would be seriously depriving yourself if you don’t see it at least once. It has heart, bits of comedy, drama, and enough insanity to keep you hooked the whole way through.
– Great acting.
– Great writing.
– Great cinematography/design.
– Some connections are lost.