Of all the films being discussed during award season, August: Osage County seems to be the one being forgotten. It has the award recognition somewhat, but it is hard to hear anything about it over the publicity noise of films like Wolf Of Wall Street, American Hustle, and Gravity. And this is a film with Meryl Streep and Julia f@%king Roberts! Two of the most iconic female actresses I’ve watched in my lifetime. What was it about this film that keeps it flying under the radar? Then I thought about the subject matter. It isn’t as captivating as a sexy scheme set up by quirky con artists in the 70s. It isn’t as outrageous as a cocaine fueled crook living to excess in the 80s and 90s. It definitely isn’t as thrilling as watching a woman struggling to survive in an endless abyss in the present. It is merely about FAMILY. All the love and hate and insane dysfunction of FAMILY. It isn’t a two hour long dose of good ol’ escapism. It shines a light on an all too familiar life that most would try and have tried to escape from.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a fun for the whole FAMILY film. August: Osage County is the film adaptation of writer Tracy Letts’ play of the same name. It centers around a small town FAMILY reuniting after the sudden disappearance of the FAMILY‘s patriarch. And the fact that this film was a play will not come as a shock once you watch it. At the end of several scenes, you’ll catch yourself waiting for the curtain the drop and the applause to start before you realize you’re still sitting in a cineplex. I made a critique of the aforementioned Wolf Of Wall Street in my review a few weeks back. That critique was that the film seemed more like a collection of amazing scenes instead of a well structured story. Yet, I wasn’t sure if that was entirely a bad thing for me. August: Osage County made me start to feel the same way. But that way of storytelling works fine for a novel or a play. That is what’s tricky to me about adaptations. Do you want them to stick with the same format the novel or play or television show had at the expense of structure? Or do you want to mold it into something more film friendly? I personally don’t know. It changes for me on a case to case basis. I do know I loved both Wolf Of Wall Street and August: Osage County because of the TREMENDOUS scenes and TREMENDOUS performances in them. I just feel that their previous roots show a little too much for me to call them perfect “film” adaptations.
I’ve been watching John Wells work for a majority of my life. Shows like ER and Southland and now Shameless really show how the man can make real people just feel real on screen. How he can create dramatic tension through stillness and subtlety instead of jarringly acrobatic camera moves or set ups. One might assume that his visual technique for this film was just a “point the camera and walk away” style because of the actors he had it his disposal. However, there is a slick sense of simplicity and sneakiness in how he shoots these scenes, puts you in that house, and puts you in those moments. For a film like this, it is all about creating an environment where actors can flourish and bring their characters to life.
Who are the actors at his disposal? Holy crap! Well, I’ve already mentioned the two cinema Godzillas of Meryl Streep and Julie Roberts. And trust me, it is their film to own. But the top notch performances here are ubiquitous. Yeah…I said ubiquitous. It means “everywhere”. I looked it up because I wanted to find a word that could properly illustrate how great everyone is in this film. I haven’t seen Roberts this strong and fearless since Closer. And Streep literally roars reminders at you that she is the best actress walking the planet. But then you have Chris Cooper chewing scenery throughout the film, with Margo Martindale chewing it up right alongside him. Benedict Cumberbatch and Juliette Lewis show up out of nowhere and devour every line they have. Abigail Breslin knocks one out of the park for kicks. Ewan McGegor and Dermot Mulroney slides in great showings too. Hell, Sam Shepard gets one scene and delivers some of the film’s best lines in that time. It is practically a smorgasbord of acting on display. Though, I wanted to single out Julianne Nicholson’s performance because it may be the one overlooked the most. She isn’t the biggest name in the cast but she holds her own with everyone. Before you know it, Nicholson will be the one you feel for the most and the one who will pull your heartstrings the hardest.
August: Osage County is not only deserving of its praise, but deserving of more attention. It might be better suited as a play than a film. However, there is no doubt that the writing, directing, and acting are still good enough for you to enjoy the hell out of it. Sit down with your FAMILY…if you dare…watch it…hope to God that your FAMILY isn’t as crazy as theirs…then tell me I’m wrong.