Last night Sage and I had the privilege of being among the first ever audience to see the film of August: Osage County. I saw the play twice on Broadway (once with the Original Cast and once with Phylicia Rashad in the role of Violet) and I count it as the greatest play I have ever seen. Seriously. The play was over three hours and it felt like NOTHING. When I met Amy Morton (who played Barbara) through work, I completely fangirled over her.
Needless to say, when the movie was announced I had a LOT of feelings, especially about the casting. I had heard from Amy herself that Julia Roberts was circling her role, and I was appalled. JULIA ROBERTS?? The same Julia Roberts who hasn’t done anything to challenge herself since Erin Brokovich? The Julia Roberts who it has seemed has been content to coast by on her Julia Roberts-ness? How could SHE be the one to tackle the complex, brittle and viciously witty role that is Barbara Weston Fordham?? (Personally, I had cast Laura Linney in that role)
And Meryl as Violet? Could you be anymore obvious? Yes, it is the greatest living actress in quite possible one of the greatest female roles of the past decade, but it just felt like the safe choice. And would Julia Roberts REALLY be able to hold her own against Meryl Freaking Streep? The dynamic between Barbara and Violet is SO important to the story, and the women have to be true equals to make it compelling. And to top it off, the movie was being helmed by a television director making his first feature film. Would he be able to wrangle a sprawling ensemble full of movie stars and a script that depended heavily on timing? (At the time of his announcement, I was unfamiliar with John Wells and his work on both E.R. and The West Wing, both of which have large ensembles and fast paces.)
So yes. It was with great trepidation that I went into this screening.
*The screening was run by Nielsen. I may have shamelessly asked an employee that was sitting behind us to give me a Nielsen Box. #sorry #notsorry*
Well. This is me taking back everything I said in the intro. Especially regarding Julia Roberts.
I’m happy to report that August: Osage County is AMAZING. It’s one of those movies that is so engrossing that you completely forget what is going on in your life for those 2 and a half hours and you leave it invigorated. It was exactly what both Sage and I needed yesterday.
The screenplay was adapted by its playwright, Tracy Letts, so the majority of A:OC remains intact from its stage incarnation, which thrilled me to no end. As there always is in an adaptation, especially with a play that had a three and a half hour running time, there are something elements that are cut. But there was nothing I found egregious and many scenes (including quite possibly the greatest scene around a dinner table EVER) are lifted directly from the play with no sort of adjustment.
And the ENSEMBLE. There is not a weak link in it. Everyone from Abigail Breslin to Ewan McGregor to Emmy Winner (and probably Supporting Actress nominee) Margo Martindale to Queen Meryl is in top form. Benedict Cumberbatch fans (aka Cumberbitches) are going to lose their MINDS over him in this movie. Little Charles is definitely a supporting role, but it’s a meaty one and he has three excellent scenes. In fact, the projector broke during Benedict’s last scene and Sage and I went NUTS. The screening paused for a good 20 minutes, which while it was a shame to break up the pace of the movie, it was great to be able to sit and discuss it with people around us. A girl behind us hears us say the phrase “Cumberbitches” and immediately started fangirling with us. The guy sitting next to her butted into the conversation when he heard us start talking about Doctor Who, saying “Wait…girls watch Doctor Who?”
Yes. Girls watch Doctor Who.
He then proceeded to ask us which episode he should start on if he wanted to watch. Obviously, we said “Rose”. OUR WORK IS NEVER DONE.
Finally, the projector was fixed AND they rewound the movie to the point at where it had broken. Which thank God, because Benedict’s final scene.
He plays piano and sings a song, y’all. Get ready, Cumberbitches. You’re gonna die.
But clearly, A:OC is the Julia and Meryl show. From the moment Meryl first appeared on-screen I was blown away. I don’t know why I am surprised. As I said earlier, she IS our greatest living actress. But her Violet is a revelation, and this is coming from someone who saw Deanna Dunagan’s Tony-winning performance. Meryl is fearless and you really do believe that no matter HOW strung out on her beloved pills she is nothing gets by her and she is always sitting like a spider ready to strike. She also, in very Meryl fashion, has a heartbreaking monologue that shows the heart of why Violet is the way she is. She does it with letting the one single tear fall. And it is magnificent.
I know it is only March. And we have no idea what else what will happen in the crazy thing called the Oscar Race. But Meryl Streep is on her way to her 18th Oscar Nomination and probably her fourth Oscar. Her Violet Weston is a character and a performance that cannot be denied.
It’s also why I was SO ANGRY that she won for The Iron Lady. Because I KNEW this performance was coming. I can’t wait for you all to see it.
And Julia, Julia, Julia. The fact that she turned in this performance makes me angry. Angry because it is so good and why can’t she be this good ALL THE TIME. Was it Wells that brought it out of her? Or the fact that it was a character she desperately pursued and wanted to play. Whatever it is, I have never seen Julia Roberts this good dramatically, and that includes her Oscar Winning turn in Erin Brockovich. From the moment she appeared on-screen in frumpy clothes with a middle-aged body and gray roots showing, I knew we were going to be okay. It is a performance free from vanity. There is not one single “Julia Roberts” thing about this performance. She IS Barbara. She is strong yet tired. You believe every word that comes out of her mouth and you can feel the burden she is carrying. And she delivers Barbara’s vicious one-liners perfectly. If it wasn’t for Meryl, I would say that she would be the one getting all the awards attention.
After filling out our surveys (and essentially checking “excellent” for everything), Sage and I made our way out of the theatre. And who did we spot among the crowd? Harvey Weinstein himself, animatedly chatting with people from the screening.
I swore I saw Oscar statues dancing in his eyes.