AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY: REVIEW – The title August: Osage County – adapted from his own stage play by Tracy Letts – comes from what happens when you don’t have a title so you move the first sentence of your pitch up to the title page.
His first draft was called EXT. OKLAHOMA. DAY but everyone thought it was going to be a musical.
It stars Meryl Actress as a woman with mouth cancer – the choice of cancer is ‘symbolic’ – who is dealing with the death of her husband, her pill addiction and the brief return of her scattered family. Playwright Sam Shepherd has a brief moment (talk about Harold Bloom’s ‘anxiety of influence’). Julia Roberts, Juiliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson play her grown daughters. Woozy Meryl is on class form spewing her bitterness and vitriol at all present, until Barbara (Roberts) fresh from a separation with Ewan McGregor (and unaccountably unhappy about it) starts to match her blow for blow. Nothing is ‘melo-‘ here, this is high drama and some of the twists of the plot are just too soapy.
The need for us to recognise everyone’s motivation also becomes a little bit schematic with most characters getting a least one speech to put their actions in proper perspective and elicit unsuspected sympathy. But the performances are top notch, lifting their characters away from Letts’ flirting with cliché. Aside from the star turns, Margo Martindale is great as Meryl’s sister and Chris Cooper – one of my favourite character actors – is the only entirely sympathetic character in the whole piece. And Benedict Cumberbatch sings! (which, by the way, should have been on the poster).
Director John Wells puts in some nice landscape shots and keeps the action moving so that it doesn’t look too much like a play and largely succeeds, the busyness of the plot aside.