Those familiar with Tracy Letts' stage production of "August: Osage County" might have some qualms when it comes to the soon to be released film version of his play. Boasting an incredible ensemble cast including such powerhouse actors as Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts and Sam Shepard, it is quite possibly the best cast film of the year.
Centering around the dysfunctional Weston family who are brought together when the patriarch of the clan played by Sam Shepard goes missing and the entire family comes to the aide of Violet Weston, played to theatrical brilliance by Meryl Streep, the pill popping matriarch who suffers from, wait for the irony…..mouth cancer.
The film has its highs and lows. Shot at a leisurely pace by its director John Wells, the entirety of the film takes place on the Weston estate in Oklahoma. As family secrets starts to scatter the terrain, we're brought deeper into how you can never stray too far away from the destruction and dysfunction of your roots.
This is no more true than for Barbara Weston, played with a never before seen anger by Julia Roberts, who has always been her father's favorite and has never been able to see eye to eye with her mother. Her relationship with Violet serves as one of the main conflicts of the film and provides an incredible amount of poignant and hilarious moments between Ms. Streep and Ms. Roberts.
"August" could go down as the number one quotable movies of the year. Long dialogue scenes are infused throughout, sometimes in a solitary location such as the incredibly long dinner conversation which is only broken up by the humor that the actors and Mr. Letts have provided.
The supporting cast beginning with Margo Martindale as Violet's frumpy and outspoken, even more outspoken than Violet that is, sister Mattie Fae, have their strong moments. Chris Cooper shines as Mattie Fae's quiet husband Charlie. Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis and Misty Upham are rarely seen throughout the film, with only glimpses of their characters trying to claw their way into a Streep-Roberts upstage. Julianne Nicholson, playing Ivy Weston, the daughter who harbors a deep secret and has stayed back to watch over Ma and Pa, shines with her subtlety.
And then, there's the end. By now, most fans of the film and stage play know that there are two endings floating around. One ending is extremely faithful to the play and is favored by the filmmakers. The other ending which has been tagged on to current editions playing the festival circuit gives a bit more hope. Personally, I prefer the ending from the play. The new ending, and if you see Ms. Roberts in the final scene then you know you have the ending that was added after test audiences disapproved, does not fit in with the tone of the rest of the film. It also diminishes Mr. Letts' overall message and theme of the play. Whether this ending will follow through to theatrical release is still undecided, but for fans of the play, we can hope the filmmakers prevail.
Look out for Ms. Streep to garner her 18th Academy Award nomination here and quite possibly for Ms. Roberts to shine this award season as well. For whatever negativity that will be sprayed on August's adaptation to the big screen, the ensemble and the sheer enjoyment out of watching a depressingly dysfunctional family use their words and sometimes their fists makes August a must-see for both Awards season and entertainment.
Reviewers favorite quote with slight SPOILER:
Upon hearing a story about Barbara's failing marriage:
KAREN: That's one thing about Mom and Dad. You have to tip your cap to anyone who can stay married that long.
IVY: Karen. He killed himself.
August: Osage County will be released on December 25th.