Reel Life: August: Osage County

August: Osage County
August: Osage County

I often scoff (albeit, at times, prematurely) at filmed versions of great theater pieces. “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer and Tony Award winning masterpiece, was stupendous – I sat spellbound, numb, thrilled, spent. The performances were revelatory – Tony-winner Deanna Dunagan’s Violet Weston was one of the greatest pieces of acting I’ve seen in all my theater going years, as was Amy Morton’s Barbara Fordham.

So, par for the course, I cringed when it was announced that a movie version was in the works. But my fears were alleviated – if not completely allayed – when casting was announced: Meryl Streep (as Violet)? Julia Roberts (as Barbara)? Margo Martindale? Julianne Nicholson? Sam Shepard? Ewan McGregor? Chris Cooper? Juliette Lewis? Benjamin Cumberbatch?

I mean, seriously, come the fuck ON! That CAST! How can this go wrong? This HAS to be great, no?

Word of mouth from the Toronto International Film Festival has been mixed, but mostly positive – and that this is expected to reap multiple Oscar nominees.

photo courtesy the L.A Times via Getty Images Director John Wells, left, actor Dermot Mulroney, actress Juliette Lewis, actor Ewan McGregor, actress Julia Roberts, actor Chris Cooper, actress Julianne Nicholson, screenwriter Tracy Letts and actress Abigail Breslin of "August: Osage County."
photo courtesy the L.A Times via Getty Images
Director John Wells, left, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, screenwriter Tracy Letts and Abigail Breslin of “August: Osage County.”

But yesterday, I read an article in the LA Times that stated the ending of the play (I won’t spoil it here) was altered for a less gloomy, more hopeful appeal for the movie.

Really? And whose decision was this? Yes, the Weinstein executives (partly). I understand there are times that a film needs to be adapted from the stage for it’s own cinematic aesthetic, but changing, even ever so slightly, the final scenes of a monumental piece of theater like “August” is tantamount to altering the endings of “Streetcar” or “Angels In America.” Playwright Letts (who adapted his own play for the screen) and director John Wells are hoping the original ending of the play remains intact – which is how the film was shot. But you can’t lord over the overlords that are the Weinstein’s. However, there might be hope yet. According to the article:

Wells and Letts are still in a push-pull with producers and Weinstein Co. executives over whether the movie should end in the current manner, as many in the latter camp want, or with a shot of Violet in the manner of the play, as Letts and Wells have long learned toward.

While Weinstein and company can be faulted, their reasoning isn’t so farfetched, thanks to America’s incessant need to have every movie’s final act tied neatly in a nice, pretty bow:

“We tested it over and over again and people rebelled in the theater,” Wells said in an interview Tuesday. “They were terrified about what happened to Barbara.” Keeping it the way it was in the play, he said, was just too alienating to the people the film needed to appeal to.


You can read the L.A. Times story herebut please be warned – there are SPOILERS.

Meanwhile, none of this really matters if the work as a whole is successful in the transfer to the big screen. As a fan of the work – and the bulk of the cast – I’m looking forward to it.

Here are the official trailers for the film, which will be released on Christmas day:


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