Movie Day: “August: Osage County”

January 4th, 2014 by Jane Heller

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I feel guilty for what I’m about to write because “Osage’s” director, John Wells, was kind enough to come to our screening and stay for the reception afterwards and he seemed like such a nice guy. What’s more, how could I possibly not praise the goddess of acting known as Meryl Streep or America’s sweetheart known as Julia Roberts?

Well, because their new movie is only fun if you’re in the mood for high camp and two hours of dysfunctional people saying mean things to each other. Not that some of the mean things aren’t amusing. Mostly, though, they’re delivered by terrific actors who, this time around, must have been told to go broad or go home. There’s not an ounce of subtlety here. People yell, curse, break dishes, stomp around looking peeved and reveal a whole mess of secrets.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, who adapted for the screen, “Osage” tells the tale of the Westons, who gather in the sprawling Oklahoma family home after the disappearance and death of the patriarch, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard). His wife Violet (Streep) is battling mouth cancer, an addiction to pills and her own bitterness. Also along for the ride are the three Weston daughters, especially Barbara (Roberts), who’s brought her estranged husband (Ewan McGregor) and 14-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin). And then there’s Violet’s sister (Margo Martindale) and brother-in-law (Chris Cooper) and their son (Benedict Cumberbatch). With that cast, how could the movie go wrong, right?

Beats me, except that I think Wells, a well-regarded TV director (“ER,” “The West Wing”) may have been over-awed by his stars and let them get away with theatrical murder. Streep, for example, doesn’t so much become Violet but plays her – i.e. it feels as if she’s doing a parody of a character, complete with the wigs, the makeup and the accent. I was aware every moment that she was acting. Ditto Roberts. She shows she can take on a darker role than her usual sunny romantic leading lady, but I became distracted by her relentless upper lip curl. She and Streep are entertaining when they’re cat fighting, but, again, it all felt over the top in a “Mommie Dearest” sort of way. I have no doubt that both actresses will get nominated for an Oscar, but if I were an Academy member I’d vote “no.”

 

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