Thursday, January 23, 2014
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)
Tracy Letts’ big screen adaptation of his acclaimed 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, a family dysfunction comedy-drama set during a sweltering Oklahoma summer, has pedigree coming out its ears. Meryl Streep stars as Violet Weston, the sharp-tongued, pill-popping, booze-swilling matriarch suffering from mouth cancer, with Sam Shepard as her reflective, womanizing husband Beverly. When he disappears one morning, it prompts an unwanted reunion of the extended Weston clan. Julia Roberts plays bitter Barbara, whose marriage to Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor) has its own fidelity issues. Juliette Lewis is unstable daughter Karen, whose low self-esteem pairs her with smarmy fiancé Steve Huberbrecht (Dermot Mulroney). More reliable daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) keeps an eye on her mother but longs for the day when she can run off with secret boyfriend and first cousin Little Charles Aiken (Benedict Cumberbatch), who’s considered slow by his brash mother Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and guileless by his gentle father Charles (Chris Cooper). Abigail Breslin, as the Fordham’s daughter Jean, and Misty Upham, as housekeeper Johnna, round out the intimidating cast. Director John Wells tries to open the film up visually but is limited by a talky script that confines its major scenes to the Weston dining table. At least Letts’ dialogue tastes rich and substantial, albeit seasoned with an unsavory mixture of unsuppressed resentment and bile. The actors tear into this verbal red meat with the gusto of a starving horde, leaving little left. Once the carnage ends, the remaining bones offer scant meaning or purpose but for feasting itself. Streep and Roberts get the juiciest lines, while the remaining cast members (with notable exceptions in the excellent Cooper and Martindale) feel like high-profile cameos. Letts’ stage play clocked in at over three hours, while this film runs a slim two. Perhaps in excising so much Letts lost something vital in translation. And Wells seems unclear whether this is Greek tragedy or dark comedy, exacerbating the lack. Thus, despite all the strong ingredients, the final dish remains insubstantial and unsatisfying.