Monday, January 6, 2014

August: Osage Count Me Out

There was a tremendous amount of positive award rambling coming off of August: Osage County, the most recent of a long line of broadway adaptations to film.
And while in the past I have seen the theatrical nature of Broadway productions as interesting film fodder, August: Osage managed to fall drastically short for me. Certainly it had highlights. I don't think it was a poorly made film and the performances were of high enough caliber from start to finish. It's simply that the theatrical nature of the play (a play that already feels old and contrived to me... see Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and A Long Days Journey Into Night for better versions) doesn't translate to screen. It flounders in its stage-worthy dialogue and doesn't allow itself a breath of air to see what film allows you to do to a story... Film allows you to grasp the world and stretch moments into beautiful emotion-scapes.
It's also strange to watch a film fiddle with the idea of multiple strong female characters, but ultimately prove that they are all weak. This is actually not a negative look at the work, but I suppose I find myself wondering if, in Tracy Letts' opinion, these are strong women. Because in my opinion they lose all credibility by the end. One can make the argument that they are just people and once their guard has been sufficiently torn down and trampled this is all that's left... One could make a case that anyone would be found so desperate as these characters when taken down to their basest level... but then Barbara (Julia Roberts) has the "clarity" moment at the end that honestly is never earned through the body of the film. It makes me wonder if that moment is somehow created on stage... because it's the only moment from the film that does seem like an attempt at the cinematic... and somehow it is also the films greatest emotional failure. No I didn't connect with that. I'm sorry, but Barbara was just as much involved in the drama and just as responsible for allowing things to go down the way they did. Even considering it's not her fault (as her mother so often tries to tell her) that her father's gone... even considering that of course she had every right to leave and start a new life... in making her choices and dodging every aspect of that world until this event, she is not without some level of guilt.

But then that would be judging.
Of course, Meryl Streep gave an excellent performance. I enjoyed watching Chris Cooper and Dermot Mulroney ensured that their tiny roles would have an impact on the total film in mostly comic fashion. Margo Martindale was solid. I wish I had more time with Sam Shepard in this one. He's just such an amazing performer. Abigail Breslin keeps living up to the high bar she set for herself with Little Miss Sunshine. Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch were both passible though neither blew me away in limited time. Perhaps it was that they had to contend with the accents... but really their characters just didn't have a whole lot to do. Juliette Lewis was just right for her part. But the biggest stand out of the film for me was Julianne Nicholson. Contending with all of those other great performers it impressed me just how much she was able to grab my attention.

So there's my unorthodox look at August: Osage County... an almost impassably orthodox adaptation. I can only guess I'm in the minority on this one, but it just failed to affect me.

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