August:Osage County reviews

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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Thu Sep 12, 2013 3:32 pm

This will either turn out like Long Day's Journey Into Night (one nomination for Katherine Hepburn) or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (a boatload of nominations). I think those two films are the most comparative in terms of scope and origin. The only real difference is those two films focused on mostly just 4 actors. August: Osage County has a significant number more.
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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby Greg » Thu Sep 12, 2013 1:57 pm

Just from seeing the trailer, I would have liked to see what Margo Martindale could have done if she had been cast as Violet.
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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby flipp525 » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:40 pm

Richard Corliss' review just sounded like he found the perfect excuse to unload a lot of his pent-up Streep baggage. I mean, the last line about her being an SNL guest host isn't particularly funny or even true. Pauline Kael would've at least come up with some kind of deliciously biting bon-mot. "The Texas Chainsaw" comparison in the TimeOut Review I posted is at least original (and kind of funny).
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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby flipp525 » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:33 pm

TIME OUT: New York

Toronto 2013: August: Osage County
Family bares their fangs in domestic melodrama.
By Joshua Rothkopf

Edges of seats will require reinforcement, given all the leaning forward in stupefied amazement that August: Osage County inspires. That's not a recommendation, unless uncut hysteria is your bread, butter and plate. While Tracy Letts's revered Oklahoma-set stage drama delivered plenty of live fireworks as the bitter Westons tore into each other scene after scene, no one here (certainly not director John Wells) reminded his A-list cast that they were, in fact, making a movie and thus could tone it down a notch. The result isn't far off from the screeching family dinner of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with Meryl Streep as Leatherface in a black shock wig, rolling eyes and a declarative, finger-jabbing wag. "Where's the meat?!!" Streep's Violet hollers, guffawing at a misremembered Wendy's commercial (and ignoring her cowed daughter's correction). To be sure, you're simply not a movie fan if juicy melodrama like this—more awaits, like Julia Roberts immortal delivery of "Eat the fish, bitch!"—doesn't make you smile. But a reality check is needed: It's pure lunacy to argue that Letts's three-hour play has retained any of its subtle power, or is a prestige Oscar candidate. Nor is anyone going to convince me that the material been properly adapted to the screen simply by shooting it on farm country. Even if you put your own clan's knockdown brawls in mind, this film doesn't occur anywhere close to reality.
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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:23 pm

Mister Tee wrote:May I say that "Streep is really over the top -- I'd rather have seen Melissa Leo do the part" is just about the most mind-boggling argument I've ever heard?


Yeah, that is a weird comment. Honestly, I think whoever played Violet would get accusations of overdoing it from some quarters -- there's just nothing subtle about that character.

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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Sep 12, 2013 10:15 am

May I say that "Streep is really over the top -- I'd rather have seen Melissa Leo do the part" is just about the most mind-boggling argument I've ever heard?

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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Sep 12, 2013 2:18 am

The early reviews for August: Osage County have been all over the map, but in an odd way, I think all of the reviews are sort of spot-on. Or rather, they all clearly describe the same movie, and how much you enjoy the film will likely depend on how high you find its high points, and how much its flaws bother you. (I mean, I guess that's EVERY movie, but overall I would say that I mostly enjoyed August: Osage County while at the same time acknowledging that the strongest naysayers aren't wrong.)

To start with the limitations, this is pretty clearly "filmed play" territory. I don't even know how much you can say about that problem. John Wells opens up the movie a little -- the Oklahoma plains make plenty of appearances -- but there isn't too much exciting going on visually. Is that necessarily the director's fault? Well, probably a more exciting director could have come up with something more stylish, but at the same time, I pretty much figured going in that a play that takes place in one house probably wasn't going to wow my eyes with its filmmaking.

But, that said, a lot of the play is preserved intact, (though it's been trimmed to accommodate a movie running time), and I happen to find the material both very funny and emotionally resonant, with a lot of sharp observations and biting dialogue. And it's performed by a cast that largely delivers.

That "Acting with a Capital A" comment certainly applies to Meryl Streep's performance, and I do imagine that it will have some detractors. (I feel like this is a performance that could have made Katharine Hepburn's head explode from having to hear the whir of click-clicking.) But I've always found Streep exciting in this mode. When I think of a performance as "scenery chewing," I generally feel like the actor is making consistently over-the-top choices that never seem particularly well-thought out, it's just an entire performance played as loudly as possible. But with Streep here, the detail of the craft just astonished me -- she can go from hilarious to vicious to poignant often in the same scene, and yet the intention of every specific beat, and the physicality that goes along with it, seem perfectly calibrated. She gets some dynamite lines, but the way she delivers them is frequently surprising, so that the performance was consistently engaging to me throughout, even as it's frequently pitched at a perilously high level. (I think my favorite line of hers might be the moment when she tells one of her daughters something like, "You should smile more, like me." Her back is to the camera during this line, but her vocal inflection alone fits perfectly with a woman who definitely is not smiling during this moment, yet imagines herself far more of an optimist than she is.) As I said in the other thread, the entire movie is one big awards clip after another for her, and though I went into the film thinking her recent third win would be a tough obstacle to a fourth trophy so soon, I came out thinking that most of Hollywood is going to be bowled over by her movie-dominating work here that it might not be an impossibility.

I think the rest of the cast is good, in general, though I don't think anyone else has a nomination locked up. Julia Roberts is the best she's been since Erin Brockovich, but I take the opposite view of Richard Corliss and think Streep just makes mincemeat of her in their scenes together she may not gain enough traction. Margo Martindale was my favorite of the supporting cast -- she's very entertaining throughout the movie, though I wonder if she lacks enough of a big scene to be a certain nominee. She does have a key reveal, but she underplays that beat quite a bit, which I found effective, but could work against her. I'm definitely rooting for her though, not just for personal reasons, but also because she's been a steady worker for a long time and would be exactly the kind of character actress who could benefit from a nomination here. If you tend to like Juliette Lewis's usual bull-in-the-china-shop routine -- which I do -- you'll probably find her a hoot, and I thought she was a lot of fun. Those who more frequently respond to underplayed performances will probably find more to admire in Chris Cooper and Julianne Nicholson's turns, as perhaps the most recognizably human characters of the bunch. I could go on, but needless to say, I think SAG will eat this movie up.

There's been a bit of talk online about the ending, and whether or not it will be changed for the December release. I saw the ending that screened at Toronto, and I didn't think it worked. I don't want to get into spoiler territory, but the film ends not as the play does, on Violet sadly alone in her house, but on Barbara. And I thought the movie's final beats were far too optimistic for the story that had just been told. (And not only that, but Julia Roberts really has a hard time selling the multiple emotions this new ending requires of her, and I thought it all came across as muddled -- I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to be feeling, or what her character was thinking.) I would love to see a conclusion more in line with the play's more downbeat ending.

As for the Oscars, Streep is a capital C certainty, there's potential for one of the other actors, I guess screenplay is always a possibility for a Pulitzer-minted property. Quality-wise, I think Best Picture would be a stretch, but it's been built with awards in mind, and I imagine actors will respond well to it, and it's entertaining enough, so it's possible it gets into the top race. But I can't imagine it will be one of the core contenders.

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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby Uri » Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:25 am

flipp525 wrote:She is not Vi; she is Meryl Streep doing another of her fabulous impressions.


He is not a critic; he is Richard Corliss doing another of his fabulous impressions of Pauline Kael.

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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby flipp525 » Wed Sep 11, 2013 10:27 pm

Wow. A bit of savagery here and there.

TIME
by: Richard Corliss

August: Osage County: Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts Duke It Out for an Oscar
And Roberts wins, in this entertaining if cinematically uninspired film of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize–winning family saga

A Spinal Tap song turned up to 11 isn’t as noisy as Meryl Streep‘s first appearance in August: Osage County. Appearing onscreen in director John Wells’ faithful film of Tracy Letts’ acclaimed play, the actress’s performance and affect all but shout, “Watch me! Note my new tics (so cunning) and accent (spot-on)! Examine the coiffure and makeup I chose this time!” Is that Magic Meryl under that mane and paint? Yep. Give another Academy Award to that woman — Streep or her hairstylist.

In August: Osage County, which launched its Oscar campaign at the Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF (the movie will open in theaters on Christmas Day), Streep plays Violet, the cancer-ridden wife of hardscrabble Okie poet Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard). She enters the room, her gray hair sparse from chemo treatments, her face chalk white. The camera closes in to inspect Streep’s getup and attitude; she could be Mary Tyrone, the drug-addled mother in Eugene O’Neill‘s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, after getting bitten by Nosferatu. She mumbles to Bev through her dope haze, sucking in his perplexity and the viewer’s attention. Later, wearing a black wig and sunglasses, she resembles an ancient pop star — Bob Dylan or Tom Waits — in glorious late-career desiccation.

She is not Vi; she is Meryl Streep doing another of her fabulous impressions. Her Julia Child in Julie & Julia and her Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady were acute parodies that found some emotional grounding in those famous personalities. If PBS had its own refined version of Saturday Night Live, Streep could be a permanent guest host. But when she turns her considerable talents to fictional roles, like the mother in Mamma Mia! or the nun in Doubt, or here with Vi, she tends to go way too big, diverting the audience’s focus from the character to the performer.

Writing August: Osage County, Letts had his own big agenda: he turned some of the landmark family dramas of 20th century theater — Long Day’s Journey, A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — into bitter, biting hilarity. He also detonated nearly as many unexpected deaths and sexual surprises as you’d see in a Mexican telenovela; the story has everything but evil twins and amnesia. Osage County, which richly earned a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Play in 2008, is superb theater but not a cathartic tragedy. The play scalds but does not purge; it’s just a monstrously entertaining spectacle.

So maybe the movie adaptation is a suitable showcase for Streep’s meticulous overplaying. What’s telling, though, is that most of the other actors — Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis — manage to nail their roles, to draw all the wit and pain out of their characters, without showboating.

Shepard’s Bev, for example: the patriarch of the Weston family and, we infer, for nearly 50 years the endurer and arbiter of Vi’s venomous sarcasm. “My wife takes pills. I drink,” Bev explains to Johnna (Misty Upham), the Native American woman he has hired to care of Vi. “That’s the bargain we struck.” In Shepard’s interpretation, Bev is a figure of such manly grace and weariness after living with Vi and raising their three daughters that the viewer warmly anticipates spending an evening with him. But he gets just one scene and he’s gone — dead, a suicide.

Bev’s funeral gathers the splenetic Weston clan for an emotional summit most of the members would just as soon sit out. From Colorado comes eldest daughter Barbara (Roberts) with her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their 14-year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Middle daughter Ivy (Nicholson) had stayed in Oklahoma to tend to her parents and warmed up to Little Charlie (Cumberbatch), the son of Vi’s sister Mattie Fae (Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Cooper). Youngest daughter Karen (Lewis), who has come from Florida with her raffish fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney), is a relentless saleswoman of her own flighty charm, ever seeking the bright side to a dark family. “You gotta tip your hat to a couple who stayed married so long,” she says of her parents — forcing Ivy to whisper, “Karen, he killed himself.”

Like a master accordionist, Letts expands the Bev-Vi duo to 10 family members at a raucous funeral dinner, then gradually strips the party down to a mother and two daughters (Barbara and Ivy) for a session of Truth or Dare, Truth and Scare. Vi is the prime, rabid truth teller, reminding her children of their easy lives compared with the travails that she and Bev faced. Her throat cancer affords Vi another link to Bev: the dying get pride of place in mourning the dead.

Wells, who wrote and directed the excellent job-loss drama The Company Men in 2010, opens and closes his new movie with the landscapes of Pawhuska, Okla., where the play is set. The on-location shooting gives the film an arid, sprawling visual correlative to Barbara’s observation that Osage County isn’t the Midwest, as Bill believes. “This is the Plains,” she says, “a state of mind, right? Some spiritual affliction, like the blues.” Roberts and Lewis sport the parched, weathered skin of women who grew up on the Plains and, though they moved away years ago, still carry its brand on their faces.

In The Company Men, Wells was the auteur; here he’s the director of the script that Letts adapted from his play. As he said at the TIFF premiere, bursting with a kid’s astonished pride, “I got to work on Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County.” Wells didn’t set out to transform the piece but to translate it, with delicacy and vigor, to film. So although the characters occasionally have conversations in the yard of the Weston home, most of the movie takes place inside, with the window shades drawn to shelter Vi from knowing whether it’s night or day.

In the play, the family was essentially locked inside that haunted house; the stage announced, by the confines of its proscenium, that there was no escape from the dirty secrets to be revealed. Watching the second act’s explosive dinner scene, the playgoer could choose which of the Westons to watch. Wells might have tried the huge challenge of shooting this long sequence in a single extended take, as Alfonso Cuarón did in the 13-minute opening shot of Gravity (at Venice this year) or director Steve McQueen did in a couple of 10-minute shots in another TIFF entry, 12 Years a Slave. Instead, he follows the Hollywood norm of reaction shots, cutting from the speaker to the listener. This formula allows for more narrative and behavioral information to reach the viewer, but it dices and dilutes some of the crackling tension among 10 family members who are metaphorically chained to their seats.

Then again, Wells had all those stars to photograph and please. The Broadway production, which originated with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Co., was bereft of marquee names (though Amy Morton, who played Barbara, returned last year as Martha to Letts’ George in the Tony-winning revival of Virginia Woolf). Among Wells’ actors, six have earned Oscars or Oscar nominations, and most of the others deserved to somewhere along the line. As a company, they’re swell here. (Only McGregor, submerging his natural charisma in a cramped character with a peculiar multiregional accent, seems miscast and ill-used.)

Cooper plays a man so gentle as to be considered weak, until he explodes to defend Little Charlie against a mother who constantly demeans him. Cumberbatch, who rose from his Sherlock Holmes TV role to play the supervillain in Star Trek Into Darkness, is in three TIFF films this year. Sweet, sad Little Charlie is far removed from Cumberbatch’s Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate and from his plantation owner in 12 Years a Slave — both are masters, while Little Charlie dwells in family servitude, the unfair butt of almost everyone’s jokes — but the actor invests the role with pathetic dignity.

Nicholson, from Law & Order: Criminal Intent and indie films like Brief Encounters With Hideous Men, plays Little Charlie’s soul mate and equivalent in the Weston family: a plain Jane whose goodness is ignored or taken for granted. If there is a heroine among Vi’s daughters, she’s it; and Nicholson gives full emotional value through the subtlest glances and silences — up to and including her big blow-up scene. (Practically every character gets one.) You can also see Ivy’s kinship to Barbara, for Nicholson and Roberts complement each other as siblings who took different routes to maturity: one by dutifully staying home, the other by bolting to a hoped-for liberation.

In her Oscar-winning performance as Erin Brockovich, Roberts was a little too strutting, too sure of her superiority to her adversaries (as the film was). Her Barbara is a victim who uncomfortably returns to the scene of the crime — Vi being the perpetrator — and tries not to acknowledge how much she may have in common with her hated mother. It’s Roberts’ deepest, strongest, liveliest film work, which may well put her in the Best Actress competition against Streep. On Oscar night, mother and daughter could fight it out yet again.

So who should have played Vi? I’d start with Melissa Leo, an Oscar nominee for Frozen River (in which she was paired with Upham, the Osage County maid) and a winner for The Fighter (in which she presided over another contentious family). Leo, who sneaks in and takes over the TIFF drama Prisoners, could have been great as Vi, spitting out her curses without getting everyone wet. But with a cast of top stars, Wells may have figured he needed the much-laureled Meryl to preside. No question, Streep does gradually lasso the character, locating a good deal of the fun Vi has in spreading her pain around. But she’s still Meryl Streep doing, not being, Vi. It’s the difference between acting and what Jon Lovitz’s Master Thespian on SNL used to call “Acting!“

Read more: http://entertainment.time.com/2013/09/1 ... z2ee4b5Nak
Last edited by flipp525 on Thu Sep 12, 2013 9:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: August:Osage County reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Sep 10, 2013 10:35 am

And, with the embargo apparently broken, perhaps BJ can offer his full review.

Screen International.

August: Osage County
10 September, 2013 | By Tim Grierson

Acting with a capital “A” dominates August: Osage County, a darkly comic drama that explores the ugly anger, pain and secrets that are eating away at an Oklahoman family like the cancer that’s afflicting its poisonously bitter matriarch. Based on the Pulitzer-winning play by Tracy Letts about a very unhappy family reunion, this ensemble piece is filled with high-profile actors who dig into the story’s rich lines and overflowing melodrama. With a family this overwrought, it’s fitting that the movie is a bit of a mess itself, but director John Wells mostly keeps this emotional rollercoaster on the rails.

Amidst the movie’s histrionics and shouting matches, there is also a deep concern about the ways in which families create imperfect people who go out into the world continuously blaming their parents for their difficulties in adulthood.

August: Osage County will be released in the US and UK around Christmastime, when most industry observers will be hotly debating its considerable chances at award nominations. With a cast headed by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, the film is filled with Academy Award winners and nominees, and the story’s mixture of hard truths and tart asides could help make the film a hit. At the very least, the Weinstein Company will position this movie as one of winter’s must-see prestige picks.

As August: Osage County begins, the Westons are in mourning. Alcoholic poet Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) has died, probably because of suicide, and the funeral service has provoked two of his daughters, flighty Karen (Juliette Lewis) and cold Barbara (Julia Roberts), to return to their Oklahoma childhood home to attend the service.

A third daughter, sensitive Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), still lives in their hometown, but the centre of the family is unquestionably Violet (Streep), their mother and Beverly’s wife. With assorted husbands, children and fiancés also coming to pay their respects, Barbara and Violet reignite their angry faceoff, a resentment built up over years that the audience will begin to understand in detail over the course of the film.

Wells made his name in television as an executive producer on acclaimed shows like The West Wing and E.R., so, not surprisingly, he’s able to helm a film in which there are several major characters, each with his or her own foibles and quirks. Letts has adapted his own play, and August: Osage County practically hums with sharp dialogue and good quips — although, admittedly, some of these lines feel more theatrical than lifelike, perhaps an inevitable by-product of the story’s roots on the stage.

Letts’ characters are often caustic, wounded individuals, and the movie is at its strongest when they’re tearing each other apart, most memorably during a superb dinner scene after the funeral, the entire family gathered around the table for a series of punishingly abusive verbal volleys in between bites of food. The queen of these exchanges is Violet, who’s hampered by mouth cancer and doped up on pain medicine but still firing away at her children, who have plenty of issues about their less-than-rosy childhood.

But if Violet is a volcanic fury, Barbara is a worthy adversary, refusing to let her mother browbeat her children and other family members with her accusations and self-pity. (Beverly may have killed himself, but Violet is convinced it’s not because of her.) To be sure, these scenes of vengeful recriminations are an excuse for actors to go gleefully over-the-top, but the controlled ferocity contained in Streep’s and Roberts’ performances can be quite compelling.

Streep is known for her immersion into roles, sometimes resulting in mannered performances, but her Violet is an impressive cauldron of loathing. Though she can be bitingly funny and even loving, Violet is a woman who feels free to finally say her piece now that her husband has died, and Streep suggests the character’s fuming exasperation at her ungrateful children, who don’t understand the depth of her own miserable upbringing.

As her foil, Roberts gives one of her most piercing performances, playing Barbara as a spiteful woman who’s very clearly becoming like her mother, berating her philandering husband (Ewan McGregor) and finding little in her chaotic life to make her happy. (Like Violet, she’s unwilling to see her culpability in her own problems.) For most of her career, Roberts has chosen to be the smiling, charming star, only occasionally showing grit like in her Oscar-winning turn in Erin Brockovich. But her August: Osage County performance is defiantly steely, never asking us to sympathize with this rather unpleasant woman who both hates and loves her impossible mother.

Amidst the movie’s histrionics and shouting matches, there is also a deep concern about the ways in which families create imperfect people who go out into the world continuously blaming their parents for their difficulties in adulthood. This dynamic is felt most strongly between Violet and Barbara, but it can also be observed in other characters, including Violet’s boisterous sister Mattie Fae Aiken (Margo Martindale), whose good-natured ribbing can turn surprisingly dark when it comes to her disappointment of a son Charles (a timid, beaten-down Benedict Cumberbatch, nicely playing against type).

Discontent permeates this extended family — which also includes Mattie Fae’s lacklustre husband Chris Cooper — and while August: Osage County can be quite funny and touching, those sentiments can’t shake the darkness at the movie’s centre.

August: Osage County has its quieter, more reflective moments as well, and Wells gives as much time as possible to even the supporting characters’ plights, including a secret love affair between Ivy and Charles, who are first cousins. Still, the script’s high-drama moments tend to dominate, and as a result the movie can sometimes be merely a showy platform for the cast to flaunt their technical skill. But on the whole the ensemble sticks close to Letts’ vision of a family on the verge of imploding, letting the writer’s language and ideas carry the day.

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August:Osage County reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Sep 10, 2013 10:25 am

Tracy Letts’ acid-tongued Broadway triumph shorn of some girth but with its scalding intensity fully intact,
Variety -- substantially more enthusiastic than most.

Scott Foundas
Chief Film Critic@foundasonfilm

There are no surprises — just lots of good, old-fashioned scenery chewing — in “August: Osage County”, director John Wells’ splendid film version of playwright Tracy Letts’ acid-tongued Broadway triumph about three generations in a large and highly dysfunctional Oklahoma family. Arriving onscreen shorn of some girth (the stage version ran more than three hours, with two intermissions) but keeping most of its scalding intensity, this two-ton prestige pic won’t win the hearts of highbrow critics or those averse to door-slamming, plate-smashing, top-of-the-lungs histrionics, but as a faithful filmed record of Letts’ play, one could have scarcely hoped for better. With deserved awards heat and a heavy marketing blitz from the Weinstein Co., this Xmas release should click with upscale adult auds who will have just survived their own heated holiday family gatherings.

On stage, confined to a creaking, cavernous old house that seemed variously a womb, a prison and a sarcophagus for those who passed through it, “August” consciously aligned itself with a particular strain of Great American Plays set in just such environs (including multiple works by Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams). Onscreen, gently opened up to include the big skies and infinite horizons of the real Osage County (where the pic was lensed), it suggests a more barbed, astringent “Terms of Endearment” for the Prozac era, with fewer tears and far more recriminations.

Once again, we are introduced to the Weston clan by way of patriarch Beverly, a melancholic poet (played here by an excellent Sam Shepard, in a role originated by Letts’ own late father, Dennis) who quotes T.S. Eliot’s immortal maxim that “life is very long” just before taking matters into his own hands: first by mysteriously disappearing, then by turning up drowned in a local lake. The ensuing funeral serves as a de facto family reunion, the previously empty house filling to the rafters with Beverly’s three grown daughters, their significant others and assorted relations. All have come to pay their last respects. None will leave without incurring the wrath of the widow Weston, Violet (Meryl Streep), a cancer-stricken, pill-popping martinet whose idol was Liz Taylor and who could be Albee’s Martha a few decades — and many rounds of marital prizefights — on from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

From all points they converge: Barbara (Julia Roberts), the eldest, with her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and moody teen daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) in tow; Karen (Juliette Lewis), the youngest, who shows up on the arm of her supposed fiance (Dermot Mulroney), a sleazy Florida hustler with unsavory business connections; and middle child Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who’s big secret is that she’s sweet on her first cousin “Little” Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) — a secret, it turns out, much bigger than even Ivy knows.

Whatever else one may think of “August,” in Violet, Letts (who adapted “August” for the screen) has created one of the great, showstopping female roles in recent American theater — his Mother Courage, Mama Rose and Mary Tyrone, all rolled into one — and Streep plays it to the hilt, in and out of a black fright wig (to hide her chemo-stricken hair) and oversized sunglasses, cursing like a longshoreman and whittling everyone down to size. Nothing slips by her, she says repeatedly. You’d better believe it. It’s a “big” performance, but it’s just what the part calls for, since Vi is something of an actress herself, craving the attention that comes with turning a solemn family gathering into an occasion for high theater. This may be Beverly’s funeral, but it’s Vi’s chance to shine.

Shine she does, especially during the long funeral dinner at the end of Act Two that is, as it was on stage, Letts’ piece de resistance. Streep is electrifying to watch here, goosing, prodding, meting out punishment and laying family secrets bare, surprisingly gentle one moment, demonic the next. And Roberts, who hasn’t had a big, meaty part like this in years, possesses just the right hardened beauty to play an aging woman let down by life, terrified at the thought of becoming her mother.

Wells, who is best known for having produced such small-screen phenoms as “ER” and “The West Wing,” does an impressive job shooting and cutting among 10 major characters, all of whom get their chance to engage Vi in verbal tango. He isn’t a natural film director per se (his lone previous feature, 2010’s “The Company Men,” was the earnest, corporate-downsizing also-ran to “Up in the Air”), but he understands what “August” needs in order to work on screen, how to preserve its inherent claustrophobia without rendering it completely stagebound, and the result is far more successful than any more stylized “cinematic” treatment probably would have been. (Overall, Wells’ work here recalls the American Film Theatre series of stage-to-screen adaptations from the 1970s, of which John Frankenheimer’s “The Iceman Cometh” was the major highlight.)

“August” is the third Letts play to reach the screen in a decade, following William Friedkin’s films of “Bug” and “Killer Joe.” And if, on the surface, it appears to be Letts’ straightest piece (void of surveillance implants and fellated chicken legs), just beneath it may be the most violent and perverse. It’s a panorama of unfulfilled lives in which people do the most unforgivable things to the ones they (supposedly) love, mostly in an effort to feel better about themselves. That could, of course, be the description of hundreds if not thousands of plays from the ancient Greeks on. What makes Letts an original, though, aren’t his subjects so much as the foul, logorrheic, yet oddly musical way his characters have of expressing themselves. The people in “August: Osage County” talk the way we wish we could, and sometimes do, when some long-suppressed yearning or accusation wells up inside us — torrents of words batter and bruise only to arrive at some bracing, lyrical insight: “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” Or “It lives where everything lives, somewhere in the middle.”

If Streep and Roberts have the roman-candle roles here, the entire cast is commendable, with Letts and Wells giving even the most seemingly incidental character (like the fine Native American actress Misty Upham as Vi’s live-in caretaker) a grace note or two. Lewis is a particular hoot as the daughter hanging on to her carefree youth with all fingernails firmly dug in, while the omnipresent Cumberbatch is very touching as the clumsy, unemployed young man whose diminutive name is one of Letts’ few overtly symbolic touches. (Also excellent: Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper as Little Bill’s parents.)

Shooting in widescreen — a practical necessity with this many characters to squeeze into a frame — Adriano Goldman (“Jane Eyre,” “The Company You Keep”) beautifully captures the hazy half-light of a house whose permanently drawn window shades are mentioned in the dialogue. Indeed, it is a place where we can never be sure whether we are traveling a long day’s journey into night, or a long night’s journey into day.


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