Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2013 Awards Circuit: "August: Osage County" Review

2013 Awards Circuit

August: Osage County Review

The 2013 Awards Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award running within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed in 2013. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.

I did not know this prior to release, but apparently "August: Osage County" was originally a Broadway play written by Tracy Lees. Lees won some major playwright awards for the play. It was a big hit in New York, and the film is an adaptation of the play. Tracy Lees wrote the script for the film and director John Wells assembled an all-star cast for the adaptation. 

The film takes place in a stretch of hot August days in rural Oklahoma. We see that Bev Weston (Sam Shepherd) and Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) have had a rocky marriage and that only got worse. Even though Violet is suffering from mouth cancer and a bad addiction to drugs, and Bev is addicted to alcohol, the pair cannot come to terms with each other. This leads Bev to suddenly vacate Violet, so she calls out to her daughters across the country to cope with this sudden action. Her daughters do not have a solid relationship with their mother, or each other, or their significant others. All the women in the Weston family are so strong-willed that they isolate themselves from everybody else. This leads to a lot of family drama over the course of a couple of days.

Okay, so first the good. The performances, as to be expected, are of a grand scale. We are talking about a cast that not only includes Shepherd and Streep, but also Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewen McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Margo Martindale, Dermot Murlroney and Benedict Cumberbatch. That is a beyond stellar cast, and they give it their all. What's shocking is how much these actors feel like a real family, which was exciting and gut-wrenching to behold throughout the entire movie. These are all veteran actors, and we all know what they are capable of, but we are still wow'ed by their talent. Julia Roberts sticks out more than the rest here. We've seen serious Roberts before, we have even seen an evil Roberts before. But what Roberts puts on display here is some trembling, gripping material. Stuff I never thought she'd be able to do. She easily takes the cake in this movie, and its a performance that is just unbelievable. Add the great performances to the wonderful cinematography of Adriano Goldman and you have something truly great. The work by Goldman is amazingly effective. I could almost feel the sticky, humid, August air of Oklahoma as I watched this film and it was bracing.

But all of that work is shortchanged by a film that doesn't resolve anything. One thing I can't stand the most about movies is when they create huge emotional arcs then decide not to complete them. Its so annoying I wonder why a movie was made in the first place. "August: Osage County" just sort of "ends" and its the most intuitive ending in a movie in 2013. Perhaps I am missing something since I never saw the play, but that should not matter. This is not the play, its a film adaptation of the play. Sometimes, a story from a particular medium does not manifest well in a separate medium. I truly feel "August: Osage County" definitely suffers from that. There are some big emotional beats that I just plain did not feel due to something as simple as how the scenes were staged. The film feels less like a play and more like a bunch of famous actors getting mad at each other for two hours, and it just felt off. 

I have seen my fair share of Meryl Streep movies and I think there are moments in her career of real cinematic power. However, especially in recent years, I just don't know what the fuss is all about. I think it is quite unfair to nominate an actress for an award, simply because of who she is. Streep is good in "August: Osage County" but she's far from award worthy. But I really can't stand that the Academy will nominate her just because of who she is. In a year as competative as 2013 was, I expected a little more respect for other actresses that gave their all this year, yet Hollywood loves kissing ass, I guess.

I would not say that "August: Osage County" was a bad movie, because its not. Its a fair effort, with so much good in it that I can almost feel a good movie slipping away. I won't update my "Worst of 2013" list because of this film, because there is just too much praise. However, I will not call "August: Osage County" a good movie either. This is simply an uneven experience, and with the talent in front of and behind the camera, that is quite disappointing. 


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