August: Osage County (film)

Beware of the critics when it comes to expectations regarding successful artists—unless they write something other than criticism, that is, unless they create new work—they generally do not understand what it takes to make art.

Julianne Nicholson as Ivy, Merle Streep as Vi, and Julia Roberts as Barbara
Julianne Nicholson as Ivy, Merle Streep as Vi,
and Julia Roberts as Barbara
For example, neither Tennessee Williams' nor Arthur Miller's comedies were good enough for the critics. They wanted Streetcar or Salesman over and over again. So, forget what you may have read about Tracy Lett's adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, August:Osage County for the silver screen.

Instead of merely cutting down the script, Letts reconceives it, allowing time for the cinemagraphic moments to take hold, and coming up with a new ending that is arguably more satisfying than the original.

Let film-centric minds grouse all they want about the intra-familial jousting and vituperative derring-do; this is a brilliant film based on a magnificent play.

In any adaptation from one medium to another, the key to success is replication of the emotional and dramatic arc. The details are secondary.

As on stage, the film belong to Violet (Merle Streep), a victim of a mean mother and now the perpetrator to her own children and family, most particularly, oldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts). If you love Edward Albee, you will love this cat fight! It's no fluke that Streep has been Oscar nominated 18 times. She is brilliant and flawless, even if Cate Blanchett deserves the Oscar, on the basis of Blue Jasmine's more complex journey; but Roberts may very well win the Oscar for actress in a supporting role, particularly because Letts has changed the ending.

The ensemble is equally well cast and the performances make for a first-rate film that compares favorably in scope to the original Steppenwolf Theatre production. The close-ups on the big screen may make this too intense for some, but, hey, that's why these folks are paid the big bucks, and they all know how to dish it! Thumbs up for John Wells' direction.

August: Osage County, directed by John Wells (Silver Linings Playbook [2012]), starring Merle Streep, Juilia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard, and Misty Upham, screenplay by Tracy Letts, is now playing at a theatre near you.

Bob Bows


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