Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wide Open Spaces Between a Mother and Daughter

Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.  I was a theater major, and I never read Tracy Letts' landmark work, August: Osage County.  The three-hour huge cast drama won the Pulitzer back in 2008, and the behemoth work is something community theaters only wish they could tackle.  Naturally, this is the sprawling, Hollywood film version adapted by Letts himself.

At the center of the Weston family is Violet, the pill-popping, acid tongued matriarch played by Meryl Streep.  Her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) goes missing at the film's opening, and the Weston clan clamors over for moral support.  Violet's eldest daughter, Barbara, is played by Julia Roberts.  Let's go over the reactions people could have to this casting.  One one side, one would say, "what the fuck is Julia Roberts doing in such a complex role?" while others might be clapping their hands with joy at the thought of these women sharing not only screen time but fictional blood.  

As more of the family arrives, we begin to learn just how strained all of their relationships are.  Oh, and trust me, everyone's relationship with everyone is a bond that's about to break.  Everyone shows up.  Margo Martindale plays Mattie Fae, Violet's sister, and carries her husband Chris Cooper in tow.  Ewan McGregor plays Roberts' wife, and their troubled 14 year-old daughter is played by Abigail Breslin.  Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson play Barbara's sisters.  That's not even all the actors--trust me, they are aplenty.  

As the booze flows, so do the secrets.  I don't want to spoil the draaahhh--maaaahhh, so I shall be skimpy on the plot.  Usually with play adaptations, the film version always seems a bit stage-y or talky or so grand for the screen that it threatens to rip holes in it.  Each of the actors gets a moment alone on the screen, whether a monologue or a dramatic moment is in play.  It's very nice to see.  Maybe in part because I don't mind big or stagey or graaaaand.  

As far as performances go, Roberts steals it.  Preconceived notions of her acting ability will be throw out the window, because this is quite possibly Roberts' best performance to date.  Movie star is the title Roberts has been slapped with (a scarlet S for STAR), but she channels a jagged rage in this performance.  She embraces her anger towards her mother, and when she and Streep spar, I was bowled over by the dynamic of it.  I feared Streep would be so over the top that I wouldn't be able to enjoy it, but she's great.  Bile and humor spill from her mouth.  No wonder she's regarded as the greatest living actress.  

If one more person around me said something to the effect of "I thought my family was dysfunctional" I might have killed myself, but I would love to hang out with the Weston family.  Streep could hurl insults at me, Roberts to force me to eat cod (just trust me) and Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper could get into a passionate fight over me.  Bring it.  

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