Thursday, March 6, 2014

august: osage county

loud and exhausting but filled with superb acting. that was august: osage county. this tracy letts material first wowed broadway audiences before george clooney’s group brought it to the screen. weston family is at the center of this comedic (yup, it competed in the musical/comedy category) film. beverley (sam shepard), husband to violet (meryl streep), committed suicide, which brought on an unexpected gathering. their three daughters, barbara (julia roberts), karen (juliette lewis) and ivy (julianne nicholson) all went home, as were violet’s sister mattie fae aiken (margo martindale), her husband charles (chris cooper) and their son little charles (benedict cumberbatch). barbara, the eldest, went home with her soon-to-be estranged husband (ewan mcgregor) and their daughter (abigail breslin), while karen brought her new fiancĂ© (dermot mulroney).

this 2-hour john wells film was draining. it can be a dementor that completely sucks out all the joys in one's life. while i don’t mind watching a dysfunctional family go at it and kill each other with daggered words, i still hope that the film answered the question what’s the point of all of this... is there really no hope at the end of it all? of course, many people might say that this is what happens in real life and/or the point is “nothing endures, not even love within the family”. but after a good showcase of class acting, as a movie fan, i also want to see some sort of a resolution. unfortunately, it wasn’t there. the movie’s collection of demeaning, depressed and teleserye-educated individuals made it an altogether far-fetched flick. one or two (or even three) jaded characters could have worked better than having all of them having their own little issue. but of course, this led to a film driven by strong performances as all the actors had a lot of “material” to work on.

while it is an endurance-tester tale of addiction, depression, hurt and betrayal, there were some super funny moments, especially the things violet said such as:
“is anybody supposed to smoke?”
“the only woman pretty enough not to wear makeup was elizabeth taylor, and she wore a ton.”
“karen! shame on you! don't you know you're not supposed to say "cowboys and indians"? you played "cowboys and native americans". right, barb?”
“are we breaking shit now, uh? i can break shit! hey! see, everybody can break some shit!”

the soundtrack was also a good collection. little charles’ song for ivy was a touching one and one of the film’s best scenes.

as i’ve said, what the movie ultimately succeeded at was its parade of great performances. central to this is the terrific meryl streep. some said that she went overboard with this performance but for me, her acting was vital to the atmosphere wells was going for. it was a true testament to her range and unmatched talent. she chews the scenes she was in and almost made other actors spectators to her superior acting flair. very few could have done what she’s done and the 20-minute funeral dinner scene captured violet’s sourness and  fragility. violet was one of two least likeable characters (the other was barbara) but streep’s characterization made audiences still have a soft spot for her despite her verbal cruelty. it was as if cheering for the wicked witch who could have a change of heart once she gets to know johnna (the american indian household help hired by beverley; played by misty upham) better. streep’s monologue at the swing with her 3 daughters was her highlight. this showed her outstanding range, from her sarcastic violet to her “broken hearted little girl”, as well as romantic comedy finesse and deep, very deep hurt. she deserved all her nominations and could have won for it had the movie turned out even a little bit better.

julia roberts’ bratty way of acting finally found a vehicle! her “i’m bitter so deal with it” attitude was effective and although she wasn’t the best among the brood, she held her own versus la streep. nicholson’s ivy was the strongest performance among the sisters. although cheerless, her quiet demeanor was a breath of fresh air in a procession of loud characters and her best scene was the one at the veranda with barbara and karen. chris cooper also figured quite good. although no match to streep’s dazzling display of violet’s acidity, his charles mightily put down mattie fae’s very own violet-y fit of temper. martindale was the movie’s other outstanding actress and scene-stealer. her mattie fae was a bit acerbic but also true and does not disdain from speaking her mind, even against her own son. her “old fat aunt mattie fae” scene with roberts proved how gifted she is as an actor. she should have been nominated for best supporting actress rather than roberts. benedict cumberbatch was also good as the nervy and unsure little charles. it was quite clear that this ensemble had a bang doing the movie and again, had the movie turned out better, they could have won the best ensemble award at the SAG.

august: osage county suffered from having a lot of burning sadness similar to the burning heat of the oklahoma summer, which would leave moviegoers dried out. but there were also a lot of great acting and some dark humor to get pleasure from. one would just need some pets 101 episode right after it, as well as that thankful thought that my family’s nowhere near the westons, to get rehydrated.

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