August: Osage County began life as a Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning play written by Tulsa’s own Tracy Letts. Letts also wrote the screenplay, so I had no worries about the continuity between the play and the movie. The cast is absolutely stellar, and there was no doubt these actors would pull the best from the script. The whole movie is set, and they filmed, less than an hour from my home. The excitement of a film of this quality showcasing the natural beauty of Oklahoma outshone my vague sense of dread after reading the summation of the play’s plot.
Set in rural Oklahoma, the story features an alcoholic father, a drug addict mother, a suicide, a marriage ending, racism, and the lasting damage people inflict on each other. The description of the film as a “dark comedy” is certainly apt, and I knew without a doubt that the cast would deliver. Seriously, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermont Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale…what couldn’t you do with that kind of cast?
The cast delivered the performances I knew they would, each actor disappearing into amazingly well-written characters. Characters that, I think, are universally relatable. No matter their specific story, seeing something of yourself or someone close to you in them wasn’t a stretch. Although, for those of us who drive these roads, shop at these stores, and are intimately familiar with the trappings of the film it may have been even a bit easier to relate. (When you’re fairly certain you shop at the grocery store some of the props come from…it is definitely close to home.)
Having heard English actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, with a convincing American accent in The Whistleblower, I didn’t wonder if he’d be able to pull off sounding like an American, but the man exceeded my expectations and sounded as if he grew up down the road, mastering the particular accent and cadence of speech of Oklahoma without flaw. Actually, all the actors did an amazing job with this. Julia Roberts’s character had moved away from home to Colorado, and like many of us who have done this, lost most of her accent…except in times of stress when the “okie” slipped fleetingly through.
They did a lot of the filming locally, in Bartlesville, OK, and the film does a wonderful job of showing off the things I love about the local landscape. The area is both stark and beautiful, miles to drive without seeing more than scattered farmhouses, not always in the best state of repair, and huge round bales of hay, and gently rolling hills.
This script is funny in places, but it is truly the “dark comedy” it professes to be. Although there are brief moments of levity, the overall feel of the movie is…downright depressing, be warned. If your family is in any way, shape, or form dysfunctional (and really, whose isn’t?) this movie will pick at the scab. Tracy Letts has done a phenomenal job with pulling the audience into these characters’ lives, and when I watched it, the vast majority of the audience in the theater stayed seated through the credits to collect themselves before leaving in virtual silence. Honestly, it took a couple of days before I was really able to shake the contemplative mood that August: Osage County engendered, and it actually inspired a few changes in my own life…mostly in an effort to never become anything like the characters portrayed in the film.
Confession time. I’ve sat on this review for…a couple of months. This is not an easy film for me to review because, while August: Osage County certainly deserves recognition and awards for the stellar quality of the film, there is no doubt about it. This is a great film in every technical aspect I can think of. Acting, cinematography, script, and I would never steer anyone away from watching it, but it also hit a little too close to home in places…a lot of places. Be prepared, when you watch it, come armed with good, funny, friends…and puppies for after (who doesn’t smile at puppies?)…you’ll need it.
‘Til next time,