Well, color me pleasantly surprised. And cautiously optimistic.
I’ve been looking forward to the film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play August Osage County since the moment it was announced. Having seen the show twice on Broadway, I was blown away by it’s depth, power and surprising comedy. Because the tightness of the original cast, made up primarily of actors from the Steppenwolf Theater Company, was integral to what made it work so well as a theatrical piece, I was concerned that it might lose something in the translation to film. So much would depend on the casting of the various members of the Weston family and those in their orbit. My partner and I spent countless hours fantasy casting it, finally landing on a group that included Sally Field, Amy Ryan, Amy Adams and Michelle Williams. Would director John Wells end up being on the same page as us amateur casting directors?
Well, no. None of those actresses wound up making it into the film. Instead we’ve got Meryl Streep, arguably the finest film actress of all time, inhabiting the towering role of Violet Weston, and Oscar winner Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis as her daughters. And yet — I remained concerned. Deanna Dunagan’s performance was so firmly embedded in my head that it was hard to picture La Streep in the part. And could the erstwhile Pretty Woman really hold a candle to Amy Morton’s grounded, earthy excellence as Barbara?
Based on the first trailer for the film, which was released today, I am feeling a little more hopeful that this thing might actually work. While Dunagan was small and frail, and thus her bitterness seemed scary and surprising coming from such a tiny frame, Meryl has obviously taken a different approach. As she has done countless times before, she seems to have found totally specific characterizations for this woman, and certainly seems scary in her own right. And if the line “Is anybody supposed to smoke?” is any indication, she’s got a good handle on the humor. I’m still reserving judgement, though –I maintain Sally Field’s rage and tendency for histrionics could have worked brilliantly here, and I’m curious to see if Meryl can go to that place. Whether she’ll reach the terrifying heights of Dunagan, who won the Tony Award for her performance, remains to be seen.
And while I was, at one time, Julia Roberts biggest fan, it’s been years since she has given a memorable performance — seriously, I can’t remember a single performance she’s given since Erin Brockovich. However, based on this footage, she seems to have gotten a good handle on this woman’s life, and doesn’t seem afraid to let herself appear unlikable. Color me intrigued.
I’m much less dubious about the rest of the cast. Julianne Nicholson seems just plain and sad-sack enough for Ivy; Juliette Lewis’ wild energy looks like it could be a perfect fit for Karen; and Margo Martindale appears to be an ideal Mattie Fae. Sam Shepard, as the family patriarch, has just the gruff good looks to set the right tone for the beginning of the film. And while Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregror, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin and Dermot Mulroney had less to do in the trailer, none stuck out like a sore thumb, so I’ll take that as a good thing.
As for the music and taglines throughout the trailer, I’m hoping that is a marketing tactic and not a reflection of the tone of the film itself. This is not a heartwarming family drama. There’s hard, ugly stuff here, and I hope the actual film is not afraid to go there. I guess we’ll see…
What do you think? Does the trailer make you more or less excited to see this movie?