Did the stage-to-screen transfer hurt this brilliant play?
By Michael Kras (Actor/Playwright/Director)
August: Osage County is easily my favourite play. Tracy Letts' acid-tongued text has everything I love... it's blunt, brutal, biting, hilarious, and uncompromising. The first time I read the play, I read all 150 pages in one sitting. Never have I been so electrified simply by reading the text off of the page. Letts' language stung me in the best way, some of it crawling its way deep into my memory, never to leave.
Imagine my joy when a movie adaptation was announced. And, of course, it's finally here. Naturally, I had to see it opening weekend.
As a huge fan of the play with confidence in the great majority of the film's ensemble cast, particularly the perfect casting of Meryl Streep as the embittered and vicious Violet Weston, I had high expectations.
"Well?" You may be asking. "How was it?"
I loved it. Well, most of it.
Not that anyone had any doubt in Meryl Streep, but her performance didn't just meet my expectations. It surpassed them. Astonishing nuance and humanity infused into this character we absolutely love to hate. Her presence was startling, intense, even frightening. It's a crime that she lost the Golden Globe this Sunday to Amy Adams in American Hustle (A film that I, for the record, hated). Here's one of my favourite Meryl moments from the movie, a scene I just play over and over again. Those eyes!
The whole dinner scene is inarguably the best in the play and one of the best scenes of its kind ever written. And by the end of it, the audience at the screening I was in let out a collective, audible "Wow". What a joy to be a part of!
But the biggest surprise of the movie for me was Julia Roberts as Barbara Weston, Violet's most tough-as-nails daughter. Roberts isn't just good in this movie... she's fantastic. Barbara carries perhaps the most pivotal moments of the text, especially her big Act II blowout "I'M RUNNING THINGS NOW!" and Roberts' work more than does the play justice. Another favourite moment is the famous "Eat the fish" scene... and oh look! Another clip!
"Eat it, you fucker. Eat that catfish." has to be one of my favourite lines of any play.
Now, at the beginning of all of this, I said I loved MOST of the movie. What didn't I like? The ending. Quite frankly, the movie ruined it. Audiences at earlier screenings of the film reacted negatively to the original ending of the movie, which is identical to the play. They found it too upsetting and hopeless... so, before the movie was given a wide release, it was edited and the ending was changed. The play's brilliant original ending is still there, don't worry... but they tack on an extra ending afterwards that straight up made me frown.
But it's forgivable because the rest of the movie is so damn good. Go see August: Osage County. It's absolutely thrilling in almost every way. Get ready to have the wind knocked out of you by the performances and script.
MICHAEL KRAS is an actor, playwright, director, and theatre student from Ontario, Canada. His plays include Shut Down, Wasp’s Nest, Places, The Last Drop, and Jamie’s Gone (Nominee for the 2012 Wayne Fairhead New Play Award and winner of the 2013 Best of Hamilton Fringe). He is the artistic director of Broken Soil Theatre, a theatre company focused on providing a challenging artistic arena for young aspiring theatre artists.
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