Film

TIFF 2013: August: Osage County (dir. John Wells, 2013)

At TIFF, Alex Ramon enjoys the deluxe casting in John Wells's film of August: Osage County, especially Meryl Streep's scenery chewin' turn, but finds the material to be too much of a calculated dysfunction-fest.

August: Osage County

USA, 2013 -- Dir. John Wells

Snorting, cackling and speaking in scary low tones (with impeccable -- natch! -- Oklahoma twang to boot), Meryl Streep puts on a show in August: Osage County, John Wells's film adaptation of Tracy Letts's play, which premiered at Toronto Film Festival on Monday night. As Vi, the bewigged, pill-popping, cancerous matriarch who's at the centre of the drama, Streep goes all out, delivering a juicily theatrical turn that's consistently lively and surprising.

Wells has surrounded the mighty Meryl's scenery-chewin' exploits with a bunch of big names also doing their thang: there's Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson as her three daughters, Ewan McGregor as Roberts's spouse, Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper as her sister and brother-in-law, and Benedict Cumberbatch as their son. Not to forget a brief bonus cameo from Sam Shepard as Vi's husband, the character whose suicide sets the drama in motion by contriving to bring the extended clan together at the family homestead for a hearty round of ructions and revelations.

Some may complain that this familiar company of actors tips the piece off balance somewhat, sinking the material under the weight of accumulated star power. But I found August: Osage County's deluxe casting to be one of the movie's most pleasurable elements. And the material can use the help, for despite the praise it's received -- as both a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner, no less -- I'm not so sure that Letts's play is really such a terrific piece of work in the first place.

Acclaimed as a searing, barbed portrayal of family tensions and ties, it mostly suggests Long Day's Journey Into Night reworked by Sam Shepard (which is part of what makes Shepard's cameo in the film amusing) with a large dose of sitcom and soap opera added into the mix. It's the kind of work that has skeletons tumbling from the family closet on cue (risibly so as the drama progresses), that falls back on cozy psychobabble (hey, if Vi is a monster then it's because her mother was one, too) and that features characters saying things like "Don't get all Carson McCullers on me!" The centrepiece sequence -- retained here without fussy cutting around -- is a post-funeral dinner scene in which the family's arguing tuns into a full-on physical scuffle.

Working from a screenplay by Letts that makes some tweaks and trims to the play and supplies a basic "opening out", Wells treats the material with unseemly reverence at times, adding stately landscape shots to remind us that we're not, after all, watching a play. It's a fairly bland job of direction but the actors cut through it with some wit and inventiveness. Roberts clearly relishes the chance to play an unsympathetic character and bites into the role with fierce panache, while subtler-hued work comes from Nicholson and Cumberbatch as the kissing "cousins". Seeing this cast interact and spark off each other makes for some camp fun, even if Letts's material is still to much of a calculated dysfunction-fest to really persuade.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image