Film | August: Osage County – Simply works better as a play

Image: Jean Doumanian Productions

It’s that time of year again when Harvey Weinstein trots out his chosen few films and frequently leads them to Oscar glory. August: Osage County is his offering this year, where the Weston family gathers together in their native state of Oklahoma for the funeral of the head of the family, Beverly (Sam Shepard). It boasts an all-star cast, from Meryl Streep as Beverly’s widow Violet to Benedict Cumberbatch playing nicely against type as the dim-witted Little Charles. Violet is truly a nasty piece of work, rivalling Miranda Priestly in just how little she cares, openly addicted to prescription pills and acting as a sort of catalyst for the other strained relationships in her family, exposing secrets and offending everyone left, right and centre.

Streep is, as ever, a spectacle to behold. Normally, when she is on screen, she commandeers it so wholeheartedly there is little room for the other actors. This is not the case here however; Julia Roberts as Barbara, one of Violet’s three daughters, puts up one hell of a fight. The two characters are frequently locking horns and Barbara’s slow realisation that she may be turning into her mother is a reminder of just how good Roberts can be.

As a study of characters, this film is enjoyable and helped hugely by the quality of the acting, but it is also in the characters that one of the main problems lie; so many of them are so dislikeable it becomes really quite difficult to sympathise with any of them at all. The ending also feels quite tacked on, so much so that looking back I genuinely can’t remember what happens, as I was expecting it to finish the scene before, which would have given it a  considerably neater ending.

But perhaps most prominently however, is the astounding realisation that this is an adaptation of a play. Even if I hadn’t already known, I would have been able to figure it out in around five minutes, which isn’t really what should be happening. If you’re adapting a play into a film it needs to feel like one in its own right, not just a play you’ve placed in a film set and recorded. I just kept thinking ‘I’d love to see this on the stage,’ as the whole format just lends itself to the concept of theatre, which perhaps shows that as stellar as this cast is and despite the great character interactions, maybe August: Osage County simply works better as a play.

Elizabeth Galey

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