Movie review: “Osage County” screams stage, not screen

  • Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company
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From the January 9, 2014 edition

“August: Osage County” isn’t so much a movie as it is a competitive act-off.

And, while the cast is no doubt impressive, the experience is often exhausting (and often borderline silly). It’s a case study for why what works on stage sometimes doesn’t work at the movies.

The stage play by Tracy Letts (and adapted by Letts for the screen) follows an Oklahoma family brought back together by a family crisis. It’s a shame this film got a post-holiday release, because the Weston family would make your family dysfunction pale in comparison.

The fiery, pill-popping matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep turned up to 11) brings out the worst in her daughters (Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis). The men around the dinner table (Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney, Benedict Cumberbatch) generally do their best to duck and cover.

I’m a little torn on “August: Osage County.” On the one hand, I thought it was kinda awful, and on the other hand, I kinda want to see it again. And not in a “so bad it’s good” way.

To say that the talented cast was let loose would be an understatement. Director John Wells didn’t need to yell “Cut!” so much as needed to yell “Stop!” It’s like everyone on set was trying to out-emote one another.

That all the acting was just so, well, big can work on-stage, but as the camera dances around actors who seem to be projecting to the cheap seats, things can get ridiculous, especially as the melodrama of the plot twists take hold.

Honestly, the 2013 performance best compared to Meryl Streep in “Osage County” is James Franco as Alien in “Spring Breakers.” That’s how over-the-top. Roberts is actually great, although her acting style and Streep’s are like oil and water at times.

Theater fans may be more forgiving, and you can’t argue with the talent of the cast. Just prepare for A LOT OF YELLING!