I was fortunate enough to catch the original production of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer/Tony Award-winning play, August: Osage County. I’ve seen the original Steppenwolf production in Chicago (pre-Broadway) as well as the Oregon Shakespeare production. When news of a film adaptation came, I remember reading in the trades how every A-Lister wanted to be involved in the film version. Now that it’s arrived in its cinematic form, it’s a film well-worth seeing. Sure, the play’s obvious heavy melodrama doesn’t translate as solid on screen as a fan of the play would hope yet the what rises to the top in this film version are the great performances by this amazing cast–a venerable who’s who, with everyone cast perfectly in their roles.
What I wanted to highlight about this film is how director John Wells really didn’t have a lot of opportunity to make the film breathe outside of the confines of the story. Sure, the strange beauty of the piece is the claustrophobic atmosphere of Violet Weston’s (Meryl Streep, in fine form as always) dreary Oklahoma ranch home. Yet, when he does have the opportunity to show a little cinematic flair, it comes off rather beautifully and subtly–a huge contrast from the bravado of the performances. The film is sprinkled with wide shots of the Plains and old Western murals that truly give the film a much needed scope.
Yet a pivotal moment happens near the climax of the film with eldest daughter Barbara played by Julia Roberts (who gives a career-defining performance). Her estranged husband (Ewan McGregor) decides to bring their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) back home to Colorado. At this point in the movie, the themes are fairly obvious (generational sins, mothers/daughters, parenting, etc.) What’s wonderful about this scene is how subtle the transition happens from one family issue to another.
Jean, furious with her mother has daggers for her (1), after the debacle of the previous evenings’ incident. She decides to not speak and simply roll up the passenger car window revealing (2) her mother Barbara, in turmoil. The reflection falls right in front of her daughter’s face. Pure genius. Yet that’s not all. As we shift family issues, the camera pans up and as one car pulls away another arrives (3, 4) transitioning us to the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. It’s also fascinating to see how vehicles play a huge part in helping show the themes in the film.
August: Osage County is peppered with interesting cinematic flairs much like the example I show above. In my opinion it could have used more. See it for the performances.