August: Osage County

Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County makes an all-star jump to the silver screen in John Wells's spirited but not entirely fulfilling film adaptation. Wells, a powerhouse writer and producer and the show runner of popular TV programs like ER and The West Wing, made his début as a feature film director with 2010’s The Company Men, and his new movie, a dark comedic drama about a dysfunctional Midwestern family reunion, shares many of the same strengths and flaws as his first. A crowded cast of A-list stars delivers dynamic individual performances but Wells seems unable to unify them into a whole, which makes it feel like they’re not all all acting in the same production. While Julia Roberts gives her most nuanced interpretation of a character in recent memory, Meryl Streep is at her most overblown, and many members of the supporting cast get lost in between Streep's and Roberts's many bouts of shouting and speechifying. Margo Martindale and Juliette Lewis are effortlessly excellent in relatively uncomplicated roles, but Ewan McGregor and Julianne Nicholson, tasked with more introverted roles, are overpowered. Letts’s play is very much in the grand tradition of A Streetcar Named Desire and Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, and we go to films and theater like this specifically because we want to see larger than life melodrama that strikes the chords of undeniable truth. Wells gets the larger than life part right, but doesn’t protect all the critical opportunities for his less boisterous actors to fully put across all the inherent subtleties and complex emotions of their characters. Thus, the film delivers on a surface level, but doesn’t satisfy in a way stays with you. Letts's screenplay brims with razor-sharp dialogue and meaty, funny roles, but Wells appears to lack the guiding hand required to take it to the big screen with complete success, and I can’t help wondering what this movie could have been with an expert director of stage and screen, like Sidney Lumet or Mike Nichols, at the helm.

Directed by John Wells
Produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Harvey Weinstein, Jean Doumanian, and Steve Traxler

Screenplay by Tracy Letts
Based on the play by Tracy Letts

With: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham, and Sam Shepard

Cinematography: Adriano Goldman
Editing: Stephen Mirrione
Music: Gustavo Santaolalla

Runtime: 121 min
Release Date: 09 September 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1