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|August: Osage County
dir John Wells
scr Tracy Letts
prd George Clooney, Jean Doumanian, Grant Heslov, Steve Traxler, Harvey Weinstein
with Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, Misty Upham, Sam Shepard
release US 25.Dec.13, UK 17.Jan.13
Stiff upper lip: Nicholson, Streep and Roberts
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Letts adapts his prize-winning play for the big screen, and it's a real corker. A gift to actors, this lacerating look at family relationships is an often brutally honest airing of issues that usually gurgle quietly under the surface. But then, the things we neglect to tell each other always come out.
When her husband Beverly (Shepard) goes missing, the straight-talking, drug-addicted cancer patient Violet (Streep) assembles the Weston family, starting with her three daughters: Barbara (Roberts) is a bundle of rage with an estranged husband (McGregor) and an aloof daughter (Breslin); Karen (Lewis) is a free spirit with yet another boyfriend (Mulroney); and Ivy (Nicholson) is tired of being the dutiful one. There's also Violet's sister Mattie Fae (Martindale), whose husband (Cooper) has become the de facto patriarch, while their son (Cumberbatch) can't seem to get anything right.
With its simple, stagey plot, this film is a series of cataclysmic collisions between fiery characters, all of whom are weighed down by both attitude and baggage. With wheezy intensity, Violet towers above everyone, knowing more than she lets on, which gives Streep the film's meatiest role. And each actor gets to blend comedy, cruelty and emotion as the family implodes. An unusually feisty Roberts and the always extraordinary Martindale offer the other stand-out turns.
Letts packs the script with observations that are deceptively simple. "My wife takes pills and I drink," sighs Beverly to Violet's new nurse (Upham), exposing how the entire family (and perhaps humanity in general) copes with relational tension and life's disappointments. And how bitterness passes through generations. Yes, the script is extremely pointed as it works to shock with unadorned truth, but it's also packed with bristling wit, pithy commentary and an underlying sense that, even though we hate each other, we're family.
This is a showcase for the writer and the actors, but director Wells clearly had a huge task marshalling all of these intense characters. Several sequences are breathtakingly orchestrated to show the mixture of affection and resentment between these people, all underscored with acerbic humour and a real sense of the history they have together. In this sense, the plot's somewhat tidy twists and revelations feel almost anticlimactic. Because we'd rather just watch these people try to get through another dinner together.
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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