Film Review: August: Osage County

I feel almost cheated by this film. Whether I just misjudged it and what I was in for, or whether there is a case of misrepresentation to answer I’m not exactly sure. But what I expected based upon my memories of the trailer and what I ended up watching are/were two very, very different films.

Based on Tracey Letts’ play of the same name, the first thing that you really notice about August: Osage County is that it is overly dialogue heavy. They talk, a lot. Now, in one respect you should expect this, as it is a throwback to any stage show adaptation. On stage you can’t employ scene cuts and special effects in the same way you can on film. You live and die through dialogue and the spoken word. The problem is though, when you get a film that is this weighted by speech, the pace and flow of the film usually suffers. You can only really speak at one pace, and that repetitive monotony means that the film feels it’s length and then some. It tips the scales at just over two hours, but feels longer, and sadly that isn’t a good thing.

But that isn’t biggest problem this film has though. That accolade goes to its plot. There is just too much going on, too many ideas in play all at once to be easily followed or really engross you. I can’t help but feel that everything that is wrong with August: Osage County stems from its truthfulness to the source. Not unsurprising, as it was adapted by Letts’ himself, but it just takes the idiosyncrasies required for the stage and forgets to remove them for the screen.

The interactions between the characters, and to carry on the kicking, there are far too many characters, causes you to become disillusioned with them, and their family. It takes every character trait, character flaw, the whole nature and nurture debate; mixes in cruelty, bully and social stereotyping and hopes that somehow it will all gel together by simply describing the end product as a “dark, comedic thriller”. And sadly, for me at least, it doesn’t. It’s just a mess.

As I said there are too many layers, creating too many questions, that lead it to examine too much of the fallout as you descend a family hierarchy, without ever stopping to really expand on the ideas it creates as it progresses. You just feel this family couldn’t exist like this. The situations they are shown forcing upon each other would result in the breakdown of any family structure far, far sooner than is suggested and that underneath it all, cancer or no cancer, it wouldn’t take nearly 90minutes of celluloid for someone to attack Meryl Streep if she ever acted like that in real life.

Talking of Streep, her performance just irritates more than it impresses. There are honestly times when you feel she is just trying too hard, hamming it up too much. She just comes across as almost believing she’s too good to have to work at her performance and so from time to time it feels like she’s disconnected from everyone else around her. She struggles to lose this air of celebrity that hangs over her like a constant bad smell. However, Julia Roberts on the other hand steals the show. Her performance as stunning and you actually forget it’s Julia Roberts, which for a face as well known as hers, is nothing but a credit to her and the strength of depth she brings to the role. It truly wouldn’t surprise me if she picks up the academy award as a result.

What I found really sad though is that there are 3 moments of complete humility in the film. 3 fleeting glimpses where it comes alive. Suddenly, and out of nowhere, you are greeted with a scene of real class, and beautiful warmth. It’s just such a shame that in total, these 3 moments add up to less than one minute. Because for one minute you get to see just how good this film could have been.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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