Thursday, February 13, 2014

From Stage to the Silver Screen- August: Osage County"

This Oscar season, a film powered by estrogen has graced the presence of the silver screen. Even better, it’s one that isn’t all sunshine and butterflies, leaving audiences nauseated by a never-ending parade of femininity.  “August: Osage County” is a film adaptation of the play with the same name penned by Tracy Letts.  It received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for best drama, along with a Tony Award the same year for best play. The dark comedy revolving around the twisted family affairs guarantees leaving audiences a bit more comfortable with their own upon leaving the theatre.  

The film centers around the matriarch Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), as she calls together her daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis), with their respective families.  The cause of their reunion is for a time of family crisis, as her husband goes missing.  The brazen Weston women come to terms with their own lives (and how they are falling apart), and confront their drug addict of a mother.  

The script is excellent.  It is a well-written character piece, leaving much room for character development and leaves closure for viewers by the end of the film.  The ensemble cast won a Hollywood Film Award for their work and collaboration on “August: Osage County” at the Hollywood Film Festival.  Each character is facing some form of emotional entrapment, whether or not they want to acknowledge it or admit it. The pain that everyone feels in the film may not be relatable as a whole, but it’s real to each character and motivates them to make such self-destructive decisions.  

A psychological look at the film’s characters is an important approach to understanding the plot twists (none of which that I saw coming).  Everyone is stuck with their own interpersonal and intrapersonal issues, and even though they all have a way out, none of them feel like they can get out.  They all choose their own escapisms, or choose not to.  This emotional paralysis holds them back, and worsens the reunion that unfolds on the silver screen.  

Barbara is coping with the recent separation from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and potentially raising her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) on her own.  The reason for their separation?  Her husband had an affair with a girl not much older than Jean.  Barbara wants to save her family, but her constant need for control prevents her from doing so.  The OCD like behavior proves to be self-destructive on her part and adds to her family’s fallout.  She says so herself, “Thank God we can't tell the future, we could never get out of bed.”

Ivy faces romantic entrapment as well, as she is the only sister to stay local to keep tabs on Violet.  She is also seeing her first cousin, Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) without the family knowing.  Ivy feels that he is her only choice, since she feels old as her passion slowly dies.  You cannot help but feel bad for Charles, as everyone refers to him as “Little Charles.”  That title alone is degrading, let alone the treatment he receives from his own mother.  

Karen is the youngest of the Weston sisters, and seems to suffer from being the youngest child.  Pushed aside, she latches onto older men who seem to give her attention.  Whether it is affection through actions or buying her whatever she wants, Karen craves it, and her current beau as Steve Heidebrecht (Dermot Mulroney) seems to satisfy.  However, he has other things in mind, and they hurt her.  She is so focused on her own happiness, she won’t shut up about it, even though her assumed fairy tale ending is anything  but that.  

Last but not least, Violet is caught in the middle of all the insanity, as nothing gets past her.  She is undergoing treatment for oral cancer, and is addicted to her prescription meds.  She knew the cause of her own husband’s death, and her husband’s affair with her own sister.  Violet is brash, unafraid to reveal what she knows to her family, regardless of how it will effect them.    

All the positive anger that culminates throughout the films run keeps it on its feet.  The execution of dialogue is quick, and before you know it the two hour long film is over.  It takes you into twists that will leave you gasping (I know I did) and “OH MY GOD” will be all you can muster up.  

Letts had originally wanted the actors who worked on stage for the play to reprise their roles in the film.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  The ending of the film had also been changed at the request of Harvey Weinstein.  During the initial rounds of screen testing, the play’s ending had negative feedback when shown on screen.  

The Academy gave two nominations to this film: Best Actress (Meryl Streep) and Best Supporting Actress (Julia Roberts).  There had never before been a Streep-Roberts collaboration before this one, so it’s safe to say that the wait was worth it.  Roberts actually acts and doesn’t play “Julia Roberts” in this film as a change, showing some real on screen emotion.  The fish scene has us laughing, and all the plot twists that Roberts gets caught up in sweep us away, filled with shock.  Even though Streep plays an absolutely insane matriarch coping with a drug addiction, we still love her.  Even Julia Roberts.  On an interview, Roberts broke down in tears when sharing the news about “August: Osage County,” saying that Streep is her favourite actress.  Streep’s comebacks are sarcastic, and the dialogue throughout the film is quick.  If you tune out for a second, you wonder why everyone else is laughing and you aren’t.  

Overall, “August: Osage County” has been overshadowed this year during Oscar season by films like the glitzy “American Hustle” and the serious “12 Years A Slave.”  But it’s okay.  We got the Streep-Roberts collaboration that had been long past overdue.  And with the talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor and Juliette Powers also gracing us with their onscreen presence, “August: Osage County” is the perfect off-beat film to make you thank your family for not being as batshit crazy as the Westons.  

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