While much of the talk is now focused on films such as 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity one of the “frontrunners” heading into this award season was none other than the film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ acclaimed play, August: Osage County. August: Osage County has gone onto receive mixed reviews and see its frontrunner status completely erased. Despite that it was rewarded last week with two acting Academy Award nominations. That haul is probably a good representation of the film as a whole. August: Osage County has a lot of potential as a film (Tracy Letts is a fantastic writer and the cast that was assembled for the film is just as good), but the film doesn’t completely rise to the occasion due to some poor direction and a lead performance from Meryl Streep that can be quite excruciating to sit through at times.
August: Osage County follows the Weston family as they assemble following the death of patriarch, Beverly (Sam Shepard). As they spend more time together all the family’s dirty secrets come out. The film is directed by John Wells (ER and later years The West Wing showrunner as well as director of The Company Men) and is written by Tracy Letts (adapting his Pulitzer and Tony-winning play).
Tracy Letts’ screenplay for this film clearly is quite something, and I would like to go back in time and actually see this play. Instead I am left with this imperfect film. This film version has two major problems. First, is that John Wells really struggles to adapt this story to film. There is no sense of atmosphere coming from Wells’ direction despite the fact that the characters keep telling us that there should be. It’s an annoying fault that probably could have been fixed by a more experienced director. While Wells makes up for this a bit by having a good hold on most of the performances, there is once performance that he loses complete control of (my second problem of the film): Meryl Streep’s performance as matriarch Violet. Every second that she is onscreen, Streep makes sure that the audience knows that she is acting and it can get to be quite insufferable.
That being said the rest of the cast is truly amazing. Julia Roberts works as a great contrast to Streep’s over-the-top performance, and she has some truly wonderful scenes (including one at a dinner table where she tries to reveal a secret to her sister). The rest of the cast also is able to rise to the occasion to the point that Meryl Streep becomes the glaring weak link of the cast. However, the true standout of the entire film is Julianne Nicholson as the youngest sister, Ivy. Despite not being the focal point of the film it is Ivy that ends up driving most of the action in the later half of the film, and Nicholson makes sure to make the most of her screen time. With so much vulnerability brought to the performance it is so easy to get behind Ivy despite there being no way her story ends well.
August: Osage County is a flawed film that gets by thanks to a talented cast.