August: Osage County
Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan said, “I have to confess that I never saw this Pulitzer Prize-winning vehicle by Tracy Letts when it was on stage and nothing about this film version makes me regret that choice.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
Letts adapted the screenplay, and is lucky to have gotten the most impressive cast around. Unfortunately, it was also saddled with John Wells. He directed the TV show Shameless and the disappointing movie The Company Men (which also had a great cast that included Chris Cooper).
This film should be the first to award Meryl Streep’s overacting her first Razzie award. Juliette Lewis plays her type-cast flakey character. Julie Roberts is a nagging wife to Ewan McGregor. Sam Shephard is lucky. He gets out after the opening scene of expository dialogue that sets the whole thing in motion. He puts on an Eric Clapton album and quotes T.S. Eliot. It felt so false and forced right from that very moment.
The story involves the Weston family, living in the plains of Osage County, Oklahoma. Streep is Violet (violent?) Weston, the mom suffering from mouth cancer (if only that would’ve kept her from reciting this dialogue). She’s a train wreck, and her three daughters have arrived and take her abuse (for reasons I can’t figure out). She drinks, pops pills, and can never put her wig on straight (this is the stuff the Academy loves).
Now, having everyone arguing at a dining room table probably worked better on stage. Really though, that shouldn’t be the case. The David Mamet play American Buffalo was made into a film with Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz (what ever happened to him?). They’re in a pawn shop the entire film. It worked. More recently, the last play James Gandolfini did on stage called God of Carnage was turned into a movie (Carnage) that just had four great actors in an apartment arguing the entire time. That worked. It really all boils down to the dialogue and direction.
The side stories involve a couple going through a divorce; a woman that’s in love with her cousin. That story was weird on a few levels. The obvious, and the fact that the guy she loves seems to have some mental disorder like Asperger’s.
Another woman is engaged for the fourth time and her fiancé (Dermot Mulroney) is clearly a loser. He zips around the small town in his red Ferrari, blasting out songs that haven’t been hip in decades (Salt-N-Pepa, Ricky Martin, and Billy Squier). Oh, and he seems to be trying to get another young woman into bed. And let’s not forget the wise, practically mute Indian housekeeper that was hired by Shephard in the opening scene. If I want a wise, mute Indian…I’ll watch Cuckoo’s Nest!
The heavy-handed score was done by Gustavo Santaolalla and it doesn’t work either. There are a few scenes that do work. One that I remember involves an edit that shows a body being prepared for a funeral.
Julia Roberts’ performance was good, as were cast members Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Abigail Breslin.
Every time a shouting match started, it came across as a bad monologue you’d see in an acting class. It’s funny, I met Andy Garcia at a film festival a few months ago. He’s done two movies recently (City Island and At Middleton), that have interesting scenes involving acting classes. It’s strange to think that these filmmakers, and pros like Streep and Roberts, seemed to think this was all working. You started to wonder why this family would’ve even gotten together at all. In fact, me and the two guests I brought to the screening all agreed we had had enough. It was at the hour and 20 minute mark when we left. I believe it was right after a scene where Roberts and Streep actually get into a fight and start wrestling on the kitchen floor. I have no clue how much longer the movie had to go. I’m guessing another 30 minutes, but it was not a half an hour of my life I felt like wasting.
The movie made my list of the worst this year. It was an uneven, melodramatic mess.
Sam Shephard started the film off by saying “Life is long.”
Yeah. So was this movie.
It gets 0 stars out of 5.