Streep-led cast goes through motions in ‘August’

Tracy Letts won the Pulitzer Prize for his play “August: Osage County,” and he has written the screenplay for the film of that title.

If you seek a useful yardstick for the distance between stage and screen, this movie provides one: Here is a writer adapting his own work for the movies, and there is almost no evidence of how this display of canned yammering could possibly have won a high literary honor.

Admittedly, if you imagine everything playing out on one set, with the play’s overlapping dramatic arcs and crafted one-liners creating an actors’ showcase, the thing could work as a dramatic night in the theater.

But open all that up to the outdoors, dissipate the pressure-cooker structure with lapses in time and let director John Wells add a sentimental spirit to the proceedings, and you’ve got one middling movie.

Osage County is in Oklahoma, where the lemony matriarch of the Weston family, Violet (Meryl Streep), has gathered the clan in the aftermath of tragedy.

She has three daughters, and while she treats sensible Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and silly Karen (Juliette Lewis) badly enough, she saves her special venom for her favorite, Barbara (Julia Roberts). Barbara’s marriage to an academic (Ewan McGregor) is unraveling, so she’s in the mood for a tussle, and we’re going to get one.

The cast is heavy with good folk, including Margo Martindale as Violet’s overshadowed sister (Chris Cooper plays her easy-livin’ husband), and an uncharacteristically tongue-tied Benedict Cumberbatch.

All those family tensions take time to sort out, but it really comes down to Barbara standing up to her mother, and to Streep and Roberts playing with the material like prizefighters.

And while Streep is the savvy, surgical Muhammad Ali to Roberts’ blunt-punching Joe Frazier in that match, there’s a sense that even Dame Meryl is coasting on technique here. The gotcha dialogue is just a little too easy, and Wells (who directed the dreary “Company Men” in 2010) encourages everybody to bop their lines right on the nose.

This big serving of ham and eggs wants to be taken seriously. The Weinstein company’s ad campaign, which emphasizes the family-bitchfest angle, suggests they know otherwise. It can be enjoyed on that level, but if you think too hard about what a Pulitzer is, your head will hurt.

“August: Osage County” (two stars)

A family reunion, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts. This one’s pretty much a yelling match, with Meryl Streep’s lemony matriarch laying waste to her relatives, and oldest daughter Julia Roberts standing her ground. Good cast — Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch are in there too — and if it strikes sparks as an actors’ showcase, it’s hard to take seriously any other way.

Rated: R for language, subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Guild 45th, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville.

More in Life

Lots to see in Upper Skagit, even if the eagles are elusive

A guided hike through a mossy old-growth forest more than makes up for a lack of raptor sightings.

Shopping cart showdown: Which stores have best food prices?

Jennifer Bardsley compares Fred Meyer, PCC, QFC, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, WinCo and Whole Foods offers.

Take a closer look: Winter gardens share gifts in subtle way

Go on a neighborhood walk this month to enjoy the seasonal beauty offered by a variety of gardens.

Lucasfilm
                                Daisy Ridley stars as Rey in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
‘The Last Jedi’ opens with $220M, 2nd best weekend of all-time

The Disney blockbuster became just the fourth film to open above $200 million domestically.

Samish Flats in Skagit County prime turf for winter birders

This spot is great for birdwatching because of the mostly flat land, marshy areas and open water.

Outdoor classes and activities in and around Snohomish County

GET OUT Christmas bird count: Volunteers are needed for the Everett-Marysville Christmas… Continue reading

Relationship do’s and don’ts: Lessons from 40 years of marriage

Paul Schoenfeld reflects on what he’s learned about relationships after four decades with his wife.

Making it through the holidays on 4 legs and 4 wheels

1. Driving safety Here are some travel tips from the Red Cross… Continue reading

The top 10 albums of 2017: From Jay-Z to St. Vincent

This year saw an upward trend in music industry revenue due to the popularity of streaming services.

Most Read