August: Osage County, the movie: "uncut hysteria" at the Toronto International Film Festival

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Julianne Nicholson and Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Julianne Nicholson and Meryl Streep in August: Osage County


Reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival along with Time Out New York film editor David Fear, critic Joshua Rothkopf recently caught one of the most anticipated films of the fest, the adaptation of Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prize–winning play, August: Osage County. Before it was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, of course, the family drama premiered in 2007 at the Steppenwolf Theatre.

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So it's safe to assume Chicagoans, especially those in the theater scene, may have a particular interest in how Letts's work ends up onscreen. Rothkopf didn't love this version from director John Wells, who previously helmed 2010's The Company Men, as well as episodes of Shameless and ER. Here's his take:

Edges of seats will require reinforcement, given all the leaning forward in stupefied amazement that August: Osage County inspires. That's not a recommendation, unless uncut hysteria is your bread, butter and plate. While Tracy Letts's revered Oklahoma-set stage drama delivered plenty of live fireworks as the bitter Westons tore into each other scene after scene, no one here (certainly not director John Wells) reminded his A-list cast that they were, in fact, making a movie and thus could tone it down a notch. The result isn't far off from the screeching family dinner of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with Meryl Streep as Leatherface in a black shock wig, rolling eyes and a declarative, finger-jabbing wag. "Where's the meat?!!" Streep's Violet hollers, guffawing at a misremembered Wendy's commercial (and ignoring her cowed daughter's correction). To be sure, you're simply not a movie fan if juicy melodrama like this—more awaits, like Julia Roberts immortal delivery of "Eat the fish, bitch!"—doesn't make you smile. But a reality check is needed: It's pure lunacy to argue that Letts's three-hour play has retained any of its subtle power, or is a prestige Oscar candidate. Nor is anyone going to convince me that the material has been properly adapted to the screen simply by shooting it on farm country. Even if you put your own clan's knockdown brawls in mind, this film doesn't occur anywhere close to reality.    


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