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August: Osage County

It’s August in Osage County, Oklahoma – and it’s hot … really hot. Violet Weston (played by Meryl Streep) is doing her best to endure the heat. She’s dying of cancer and the heat makes the wig she wears unbearable. Her husband, Beverly (by Sam Shepard) has just hired a new nurse and live-in housekeeper to see to Violet’s needs and he is introducing her to the ways of the household. Violet introduces herself as only she can … she staggers into the room, drug addled, slurring her words and belligerent. The new home-help, Johnna (by Misty Upham) does her best to accept the situation and the person now in her care. Knowing she is in capable hands, Beverly takes himself out fishing – but disappears. Violet alerts her family that Beverly is missing and they gradually all arrive to search for him and make sure their mother is okay. Violet’s daughter, Ivy (by Julianne Nicholson) lives nearby so she arrives quickly, she calls her sister Barbara (by Julia Roberts) who comes with her husband Bill (by Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter Jean (by Abigail Breslin). Then comes Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (by Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (by Chris Cooper), followed by their son Little Charles (by Benedict Cumberbatch) and the third sister, Karen (by Juliette Lewis) and her fiancé Steve (by Dermot Mulroney). Everyone is here … now to unravel the mystery of Beverly’s disappearance … and of course uncover family tensions and secrets that should have been long buried ….

This movie is dark – both in its presentation and its mood. Violet lives in a house where the shades are down all the time – she does this with parts of her life too. Her daughters don’t see eye to eye with each other, nor with their mother. Violet is unpredictable, prone to outbursts of violence and can be sharp-tongued – her daughters, particularly Barbara, have learned this too. They bring all their family troubles back to the house and churn them all up again in this drama. As you would expect from such a strong cast, the performances are all good. I’ve never seen Meryl Streep in such a confronting role – she is fabulous. Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper support her well. The tension between Barbara and Bill portrayed by Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor is clear, but a bit pedestrian. Add to this the flighty Karen, again performed well, but just going through the motions really, by Juliette Lewis but her sleaze-ball fiancé Steve, Dermot Mulroney seems to do with ease. The roles of Little Charles, Ivy and Jean all have potential, but are never really explored. It’s a good combination – but the movie is probably a bit too long for its superficiality. Okay … we get the point – these people don’t get on, don’t trust each other and don’t really like each other, the family secrets will come out – truths will hurt and nobody will be happy. It’s the dramatization of the play by Tracy Letts, the Pulitzer Prize winner in 2008. Both Meryl Street and Julia Roberts were nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for their performances here.

Made in 2013. Directed by John Wells

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Posted by on April 27, 2014 in Movies

 

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Husbands and Wives

Gabriel Roth (played by Woody Allen) is a Professor of English in a New York City university. He has been married to Judy (by Mia Farrow) for the past ten years. One evening, their friends Jack (by Sydney Pollack) and Sally (by Judy Davis) arrive to go to dinner with them and announce that after more than 20 years of marriage they are splitting up. Gabe and Judy are taken aback by the news, but since Jack and Sally are relatively calm about it, they try to “take it in their stride” and all move on with their lives. Except they can’t … Gabe and Judy try their best to be supportive to their friends during this unstable period, but they find themselves questioning their own relationship and themselves more and more. Jack and Sally both take up new partners – Jack with Sam (by Lisette Anthony), a young, fit, health-nut aerobics instructor; and Sally with Michael (by Liam Neeson), her handsome and chivalrous work colleague. As time goes on, Gabe and Judy watch as Jack and Sally start to remember their attraction and affections for each other, but Gabe and Judy’s questioning doesn’t abate and they start to acknowledge their attraction to others – Gabe to a beautiful and brilliant student in his class, Rain (by Juliette Lewis) and Judy to another man she works with. Where will all this discussion, questioning and exploration end – can it be leading to a good outcome?

As a piece of theatrical and cinematographical art, this work is magnificent. The camerawork is excellent, directing is marvellous and the characters are unrelenting in their engagement of the flawed people in this drama. The performances are all excellent, particulary Mia Farrow, Juliette Lewis and Judy Davis.  I can’t help thinking that Woody Allen is just being himself, but perhaps that’s where his talent lies – as he makes it look so easy. However, as a piece of movie entertainment it is hard-going. The piece is basically a two hour talk-fest where characters either talk to each other, or to camera (as if speaking with their therapist) to check and question and re-check the situations in their lives and try to explain them. Because the characters are all totally self-absorbed, this can get frustrating. Overall, it is an excellent commentary on people and relationships, but I am not sure that everyone is as neurotic as these people are depicted.

Made in 1992. Directed by Woody Allen.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Movies

 

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