Monday, January 27, 2014

August: Osage County

Based on the play by Tracy Letts and written for the screen by Letts, August: Osage County showcases the unplanned reunion of the volatile Weston family. August: Osage County is a deeply, dark glimpse of certifiably insane dysfunction. It is a great movie but if dysfunctional families and black comedy-drama are not your cup of tea, you will not enjoy this movie. It is difficult to discuss many details of the film without taking away from the experience of seeing it. It rivals the Wolf of Wall Street in its use of the f-word. The movie is full of fascinating characters, some more sympathetic than others, and is rich with shocking dialogue. I had never been in an audience that gasped in unison together before seeing this film.
The fantastic, large ensemble cast makes the movie and it may just be one of the best casts period. Each actor was so well cast for every part. The cast includes Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Misty Upham and Sam Shepard. Each character plays a vital role in the plot and tapestry of the film. In small ways, with a facial expression or a shrug, the actors anchor what would otherwise be caricature. In particular, the pain that Juliette Lewis' character tries to hide with people pleasing and delusion is seen but never discussed. Even the more minor characters are multi-dimensional, which makes it believable. Without that palpability, it would be too dark to watch. Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep are both nominated for Oscars for their acting as the towering matriarchs of the Weston family. While neither are frontrunners in their categories, in the hands of lesser actresses, the drama of the movie could be over-the-top. I was always very love/hate in my opinions of Julie Roberts but after seeing this film, any crazy future behavior notwithstanding, I love her without question. I had a similar experience seeing Jennifer Garner in Juno.

John Wells directed the movie; he is best known for his work on ER. Funnily enough, George Clooney is among the producers of the film. I am surprised that the music of the film did not receive recognition. The score by Gustavo Santaolalla is strong (he won Oscars two years in a row for Brokeback Mountain and Babel) as is the music, notably, "Last Mile Home" by Kings of Leon. The movie has the feel of a play. The credits convey the tone of a curtain call. I would very much like to see a stage production of August: Osage County. Given that the original play won a Pulitzer and several Tony Awards, it is unexpected that a nomination  was not received for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Letts was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for the adaptation. As the screenplay was written by the original playwright, little seems to be lost in the transition from stage to screen. Favorite quote, in context, as delivered by Julia, "You don't want to break s*** with me motherf***er!"

I love a good dysfunctional family comedy. Check out this list of the 25 Great Movies About Terribly Dysfunctional Families that was compiled before the holidays. I have seen all but four of the movies and three are among my all-time favorites (Home for the Holidays, The Family Stone and The Royal Tenenbaums). August: Osage County is only missing from the list because when the list was amassed the film had not yet been released.

SNL was getting in on the Oscar fun this past weekend with host Jonah Hill. The antics included a visit from Leonardo DiCaprio and a spoof of the movie Her. See the parody trailer here. I could not help but think of the Wolf of Wall Street when a scene with Jonah Hill took place at Benihana.

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