The beginning of a new year means one thing – award season is about to heat up. Smaller ceremonies have already begun to separate the wheat from the chaff, but the Golden Globes is the first major ceremony on the way to the Academy Awards. Of course, the Golden Globes is unique since it recognizes achievement in both TV and films and the honorees are selected by a very small group of foreign journalists who often make some very bizarre decisions. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) seem to have settled down in the last few years, but that means that they are probably overdue for some wacky selections. I generally think that the Golden Globes are kind of worthless because of this, but since this is also the award ceremony where everyone gets very drunk, there is the potential for something interesting to happen. Jimmy Fallon is hosting this year, which probably means that the ceremony will be relatively non-controversial compared to previous years, but hopefully he does something fun with it. I’d rather be watching Sherlock, but the work of a blogger is never done.
And away we go……
8:00 – Yay – A La La Land tribute to start.
8:01 – Jimmy and Nicole Kidman – what could have been.
8:02 – That Westworld joke made me laugh
8:02 – Haha…..Jon Snow
8:03 – Eleven shows off her mad rapping skills:
8:03 – Barb lives!
8:04 – The Fallon/Timberlake bromance is still going strong.
8:05 – LOL – the teleprompter is already down…30 seconds into the live show. Let the madness begin.
8:06 – “The Golden Globes – one of the few places left where America still honors the popular vote.”
8:07 – “No one is gonna thank O.J.” Solid point, but the Chris Rock impression was probably ill advised.
8:08 – That King Joffrey/Trump joke didn’t land well. Maybe the audience is still a few seasons behind on Game Of Thrones and are mad Fallon just spoiled that plot point.
8:09 – That Matt Damon/Batman vs Superman quip didn’t work either.
8:09 – I’m surprised that the audience isn’t responding better to these Trump jokes. Though people may think Fallon is overcompensating due to previous criticism about his handling of Trump.
8:09 -Questlove DJing – cut to an old guy that has no idea what is happening
8:09 – Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone present best supporting actor in a motion picture. I hate that presenters come from the audience.
8:10 Well that is a surprise – Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Nocturnal Animals. Good money should have been on Mahershala Ali for Moonlight. He’ll fare better at the Oscars.
8:11 Wait – this dude is British? How did I not know this?
8:12 Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Priyanka Chopra present best actor in a TV series drama.
8:13 – Billy Bob Thornton will for his Amazon series Goliath. I am now two for two having not seen the performance that has won. I’m a terrible pop culturist.
8:14 – Billy Bob thanks the Foreign Press for letting him beat Bob Odenkirk, who he’s had a feud with “since 1940.”
8:20 – Well that was weird – they announced Hugh Grant as a Golden Globe winner for Florence Foster Jenkins – an award that they haven’t even presented yet. Then Jimmy came out to tell a joke and re-introduced Hugh Grant. That was weird, but the joke was sort of timely “I just got off the phone with Mariah Carey and she thinks Dick Clark productions sabotaged my monologue.”
8:21 – Grant is here to introduce Florence Foster Jenkins, which he doesn’t do particularly well. It’s nominated for best comedy or musical.
8:22 – Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant here to present best actress in a comedy series or musical.
8:23 – Tracee Ellis Ross wins for Black-ish which I also don’t watch (but I’ve heard good things). She’s a first time winner – and the first black woman to win since 1983.
8:25 – So far, hers is the best speech of the night.
8:25 – Olyphant and Barrymore are back to present best comedy series or musical.
8:26 – Hallejuliah! Atlanta wins, which is not only well-deserved, but a show that I watch.
8:27 – Donald Glover’s brown tux is pretty great.
8:27 – Glover gives Migos a shoutout for their song “Bad and Boujee.” They appeared on Atlanta, but I’m guessing this reference confused 50% of the Golden Globes audience. Keep up with your hip hip, people.
8:28 – Wait – we need more of Keith Stanfield dancing!
8:33 – Fallon is back to introduce the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press – the head of one of the most mysterious cabals in Hollywood.
8:34 – Vince Vaughn is here to introduce Hacksaw Ridge, a best picture drama nominee.
8:35 – Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon here to present best lead actress in a limited series or TV movie.
8:36 – Good job Hollywood Foreign Press – that’s two in a row that you got right. Sarah Paulson for her role in American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson.
8:38 – Kidman and Witherspoon are back to present best limited series or TV movie. I feel like these awards are in a weird order. Like what about lead actor in a limited series?
8:39 – No shocker here – American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson continues its winning streak from the Emmys.
8:45 – And now DJ Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the 1s and 2s.
8:45 – Annette Bening is here to present her film, 20th Century Women, which is in consideration for best picture, musical or comedy.
8:47 – Matt Bomer and Naomi Campbell (weird combo) here to present best supporting actor in a series, limited series or motion picture made for television.
8:48 – The American Crime Story monolpoly comes to an end – Hugh Laurie wins for The Night Manger, which I really enjoyed (but Sterling K. Brown was ROBBED).
8:49 – Solid joke from Laurie – Of course [it’s] more amazing because I’ll be able to say I won this at the last ever Golden Globes.I don’t mean to be gloomy, it’s just that it has the words ‘Hollywood,’ ‘Foreign,’ and ‘Press’ in the title. I also think to some Republicans even the word ‘association’ is sketchy.”
8:50 – Sofia Vergara introduces Miss Golden Globes, the daughters of Sylvester Stallone and Jennifer Flavin. And she once again pokes fun at her accent, which is getting a little old. She shouldn’t have to mock herself all the time.
8:51 – Sting and Carrie Underwood here to introduce the nominees for best original score in a motion picture (after Fallon tried to shoehorn in a Sting impression).
8:52 –Justin Hurwitz wins for La La Land.
8:54 – Sting and Underwood return to present Best Original Song.
8:55 – Another win for La La Land. Sorry Lin-Manuel Miranda.
9:00 – John Legend is here to introduce La La Land. His name was spelled wrong on his nametag. Get it together Golden Globes!
9:02 – Michael Keaton is here to present best supporting actress in a motion picture. If you don’t watch The Tonight Show, you may have thought that Fallon was having a stroke with his intro of Keaton.
9:03 – Even the Hollywood Foreign Press couldn’t mess this one up – the amazing Viola Davis wins for Fences.
9:04 – For real – just give Davis an award for everything she wants. She is perfection.
9:09 – Kristen Bell and Cuba Gooding, Jr. are here to present Best Actress in a limited series. Gooding is yelling a lot, but isn’t yelling “Show me the money” which is progress.
9:10 – Olivia Colman wins for The Night Manager. She isn’t in attendance – I wonder if Jimmy Fallon has the same rules about this as Jimmy Kimmel.
9:10 – Dov Patel and Sunny Pawar. Damn that kid is cute – Patel ain’t so bad either. They are here to introduce Lion.
9:12 – Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn here to present best actor in a comedy or musical. No one can do ditzy like Hawn, but this material is below her.
9:15 – Ryan Gosling wins for La La Land. He’s just so charming. Losers Ryan Reynolds and Andrew Garfield decide to kiss to console each other.
9:16 – Dear Lord – with the speech he somehow became even more swoon-worthy. How is that even possible?
9:20 – Felicity Jones and Diego Luna present best screenplay. I am told that these are Star Wars people.
9:22 – Another win for La La Land.
9:23 – Kristen Wiig and Steve Carell are here to present best animated film. “Good evening peers and regular people.”
9:25 – Man, the world needs more Steve Carell.
9:26 – This bit is perfection. Straight perfection. Wiig and Carell should host next year. This is the only funny thing that has happened all night.
9:27 – Zootopia wins, which is almost beside the point after that hilarity.
9:34 – Casey Affleck takes the mic to introduce his film Manchester By The Sea.
9:36 – Chris Hemsworth and Gal Gadot present best foreign language film, but more importantly, built a bridge between DC and Marvel.
9:36 – Elle wins and their table had a very delayed reaction to this news.
9:38 – Anna Kendrick and Justin Theroux are here to present best actor in a limited series and to look pretty.
9:40 – The Night Manager continues to pick up awards as Tom Hiddleston wins.
9:42 – His speech pays tribute to the aid workers of the UN Children’s Fund in South Sudan. It’s kind of hard to think what he and Taylor Swift used to talk about.
9:43 – Christian Slater is trying to make heads or tales of this rambling.
9:47 – Jake Gyllenhaal is here to introduce Deadpool for some reason; he’s not in the movie. But more Gyllenhaal is always a good thing. And that’s two Swift exes back to back.
9:48 – LOL – they were very limited on what they could show from Deadpool
9:49 – Laura Dern and Jon Hamm are here to present best actress in a TV series drama. Hamm is rocking a magnificent beard.
9:50 – Claire Foy wins for The Crown, which I am watching on my lunch break at work. It’s great.
9:51 – “The world could do with a few more women at the center of it.” Preach, sister.
9:52 – Hamm and Dern back to present best TV series, drama.
9:52 – The HFPA likes royalty – The Crown wins.
9:54 – DJ Questlove is savage – plays off their speech and then tweets about it:
9:58 – More Viola Davis. This is always a good thing.
9:59 – She’s making me hungry with all this talk of apple pie and collard greens.
10:00 – I had legit no idea where this was going, but Davis is here to present Meryl Streep with the the Cecil B. DeMille Award.
10:01 – Do they give awards for presenting awards?
10:05 – I’m impressed that they snuck a The River Wild clip into this montage.
10:07 – That reaction shot of the audience was a lot of women who lost roles or awards to Streep.
10:09 – Who knew Streep had beef with Mixed Martial Arts?
10:11 – Meryl Wikipedia-ed the hell out of this audience.
10:13 – She ends with a quote from her friend Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.”
10:14 – Great speech – totally on point. (And as expected – Trump tweeted about it).
10:17 – Chris Pratt doing what Chris Pratt does best in the montage of actors talking about their first jobs.
10:19 – Chris Pine is here to present the movie Hell or High Water and enter his beard in the Golden Globes beard contest.
10:21 – Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana here to present Best Director.
10:22 – Another win for La La Land. Let the backlash begin!
10:24 – Mandy Moore and Jess Milo Ventimiglia are here to present best actor in a comedy or musical series. I am not digging the stache.
10:25 – Another great win for Donald Glover.
10:27 – He has a kid? This is news to me.
10:31 – Matt Damon is presenting best actress for motion picture in a musical or comedy and pokes fun at his win for The Martian last year. “That fact alone is funnier than literally anything in The Martian.”
10:33 – Emma Stone wins for La La Land, which is actually deserved.
10:35 – Pierce Brosnon is here to introduce Sing Street. This is on my list to see. I’m guessing it will be right up my alley.
10:41 – Brad Pitt gets a nice ovation in one of his first appearances since the end of Brangelina. He’s here to introduce Moonlight, which is a beautiful movie and should have won more awards.
10:42 – Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne get a rapping intro from Fallon. They are here to award the best motion picture, musical or comedy. This shouldn’t be a surprise based on all the previous awards. And Fallon is trying a little too hard.
10:43 – Yup – as expected. La La Land sweeps.
10:44 – Fun fact – La La Land was originally supposed to star Miles Teller and Emma Watson. I cannot even imagine what Teller would have looked like in that role.
10:50 – Brie Larson presents Best Actor in a motion picture.
10:50 – Casey Affleck wins for his powerful performance in Manchester By The Sea.
10:51 – I love that Busy Phillips is always Michelle Williams’ date. They are so adorable.
10:57 – Leonardo DiCaprio is here to present best actress in a motion picture. He’s been suspiciously low profile tonight.
10:58 – Huh. Isabelle Huppert wins for Elle. I thought Natalie Portman had this in the bag. But the trailer for Elle did look good, so maybe the HFPA knows what they are doing.
11:00 – Carl Weathers and Sylvester Stallone (?) are here to present Best Picture Drama. It’s the 40th anniversary of Rocky, but that still seems like a stretch.
11:01 – Hot damn! It’s Moonlight! Nice work Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
11:03 – And…..it’s over. Thank the gods, old and new, for that.
The Golden Globes went pretty much as expected tonight, with a few minor surprises thrown in to keep things moderately interesting. I liked Fallon’s cold open, but the rest of his material didn’t really work. He just never hit the right tone and leaned a little too much on stuff that works on his late night show. He wasn’t a disaster, but I didn’t miss him when he was off stage. I still think Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were the best hosts in recent years and Fallon did nothing to challenge that. I never love the Golden Globes, but it is a good warm-up for the marathon that is award season. It’s hard to read too much into the results, but I’ve been predicting a Moonlight/La La Land showdown at the Oscars and they did both win the big award in their respective categories. So I guess we’ll see if La La Land can keep up the momentum or if it loses steam.
When I was younger, I was mindlessly flipping through the channels one day (as I was wont to do) when I came across a staged version on Into the Woods on PBS’ American Playhouse. I was instantly enchanted; I’d been lucky enough to be exposed to theater from our high school theater group and the occasional traveling production, but I’d never seen Broadway caliber talent before. My high school peers did a hell of a job and for a school in upstate New York we had pretty stellar production value, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Bernadette Peters belting out a tune. Not only was the talent way better than I was used to, but I was immediately drawn into the story; the idea that Cinderella, Jack and Red Riding Hood could all co-exist in the same world was a completely novel and revolutionary idea to me. Into the Woods most certainly sparked my love of mashups and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the short story that I wrote that first convinced me that I might have some skill at writing involved playing around with the perspective in fairy tales and a bridge between Snow White and Jack in the Beanstalk. So Into the Woods was kind of seminal moment for me – it began my interest in Broadway musicals and inadvertently was part of the origin story for my lifelong interest in writing that culminated in this blog. So y’all should be sending a thank you note to Stephen Sondheim. Everyone else might have been falling over themselves of Les Miserables, but I was an Into the Woods girl. #teamSondheim Oddly, I have no recollection of ever mentioning my affection for Into the Woods to anyone; I think I was partially convinced that I was the only person who watched that episode of American Playhouse and I kind of liked it being my little secret.
Though watching Into the Woods was a fairly important experience for me, I wouldn’t call myself a fanatic. I never got the soundtrack and I never saw the musical performed live. In fact, I don’t think that I saw Into the Woods ever again after that initial viewing until recently and it was only in the last few years that I realized that it was available on DVD. So as much as I enjoyed Into the Woods and it made a distinct impression, I was a little fuzzy on some of the details. I knew the basic plot and remembered some of the songs, but I wasn’t going to win any Into the Woods trivia contests and most Sondheim purists would be unimpressed with my commitment to the classic.
Still, when I heard that they were making a big screen adaptation of Into the Woods, I was very excited and a little bit apprehensive. There were a lot of rumors flying around about what would make it into the film version and what would be cut, as well as the inherent challenge of moving a story from the stage. On the one hand, without the limitations of a stage production, the director of a film has a lot more options on how he or she wants to present things. On the other hand, sometimes what works well with the intimacy of the stage just doesn’t translate to the more removed medium of film; I’m sure that the fights in August Osage County were much more dramatic and raw on stage, but in the movie they were overdone and annoying. Figuring out how to keep the spirit and essence of the musical while making the transition is a difficult one. The fact that Disney was involved didn’t do much to allay my fears, as I worried that they would want to whitewash some of the darker elements of the musical to protect the images of characters that they have coopted and made their own to the tune of a hefty profit. Johnny Depp was also something of a wild card; I knew that he could sing, but he sometimes makes choice that result in it feeling like he’s in a very different movie than the other actors. Would his weirdness work or would it be too campy? I had similar concerns about Meryl Streep, who is obviously a great actress but who lately I have found edges toward being too big in her performances, especially when given the freedom that the role of the witch would provide her. There had been attempts to adapt this play for nearly twenty years and I was sincerely hoping that now that it was finally happening that the whole thing wouldn’t go off the rails.
Thankfully, Into the Woods really worked for me and I really enjoyed the movie. Overall, the changes that were made basically worked for me (more on that) and the actors all did a really great job with their performances – especially the actors who are not necessarily known for their singing. Nearly a week after seeing the movie I still have several of the songs running through my head. I think even those that are more devoted to the original production will be pleased. After how much I hated Les Miserables, it was nice to enjoy a big screen musical again.
In talking to people who have seen Into the Woods without the benefit of knowing the Sondheim original, there are a few things that you need to know going in:
- This is a musical. You might think that is obvious, but I know several people who went to see Into the Woods without knowing this. I blame the early trailer and clips of the film that were used to advertise the film, since they tended to downplay the singing. Even the versions that did incorporate some of the songs did so in the background, so if you don’t know the film’s background I could see how you might not realize that Into the Woods is a full blown musical. But they start singing pretty much from the jump in this movie; so if you don’t dig musicals, you may want to mosey along.
- Despite the focus on fairy tales, Into the Woods gets dark. Real dark. If you are you are expecting your typical take on Cinderella and company you are going to be shocked; the first hour or so sticks more closely to the traditional arc of a fairy tale, but Into the Woods looks at what happens after the “happily ever after” and spoiler alert – it ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Into the Woods may feature familiar characters like Cinderella, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, but it also features murder, adultery, multiple people going blind (some more permanently than others) and death. So don’t go into this expecting all sunshine and rainbows just because you think you know the characters and their journey. The stage musical is actually darker, but Disney allowed the film to be messier than I anticipated.
- This is not a Johnny Depp movie. Sure, Depp is in the film, but his role is really small despite what the ad campaign may try to tell you. So if you are going in expecting a whole lot of Depp, you might want to prepare yourself to be disappointed.
Now that that’s out of the way, Into the Woods brings several favorites from fairy tales into the same universe; the story begins with several characters longing for things – Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants to go to the Prince’s (Chris Pine) festival, the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) want a child, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) wants his cow and best friend Milky White to produce milk so he and his mother (Tracey Ullman) won’t starve and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) wants bread to take to her Granny (hey – they can’t all be high stakes wishes). The Baker and his wife discover that their barrenness is the result of a curse put on them by a witch (Meryl Streep) as retribution for the Baker’s father’s sins. They can break this spell if they obtain four objects: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold. This sets the characters on a collision course with each other in the woods as the Baker and his wife try to procure the necessary objects, Jack sets off to sell his cow, Cinderella flees from the Prince and Red Riding Hood fends off the advances of the Wolf (Johnny Depp). To say much more would be to ruin the fun of discovery, but just when they the characters think that they have everything they want, things go to hell in a hand basket thanks in no small measure to the arrival of a Giant.
Overall, the cast did a really great job; there wasn’t an off performance in the bunch. My minor concerns about Streep were unfounded and she pretty much killed it as the witch. Like, she was legitimately great in my opinion. I was also pleasantly surprised by Emily Blunt, who I really like but I wasn’t sure what she was brining to the table for a musical. She was fantastic as well and I really liked her delivery of some lines. She’s quickly becoming one of my favorites. But the true revelation was Chris Pine who was just amazing. The Prince is supposed to serve as comic relief and be a charming douchebag, and man Pine knocked it out of the park. I think I actually liked his version of “Agony” better than in the original, simply because his performance was so unexpected and they picked a hilariously ridiculous location for the number to be performed. I honestly didn’t think he had it in him to pull off this role as well as he did and he had me cracking up almost every time he was on screen. I also want to cite the moxie that Lilla Crawford brought to Little Red Riding Hood; the audience that I saw Into the Woods with was especially taken by her, calling her a “little bad ass.” I presume they meant that as a compliment.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about Depp’s interpretation of the Wolf until I rewatched the original Broadway production and was reminded that the Wolf is supposed to be giving off something of a sexual predator vibe in his interactions with Little Red Riding Hood. If anything, Depp’s Wolf has toned down the innuendo a bit – I’d forgotten that the Wolf in the Broadway play had his genitals featured as part of the costume (the Wolf’s, not the actor’s). With that context re-established, I was more pleased with Depp’s performance and his choices. His lecherousness is toned down, partially I’m sure at the behest of Disney and partially because unlike the stage production, there are actual children playing the roles of Jack and Little Red Riding Hood and the song might be off the charts creepy when song to a young woman.
Some songs from the original production were cut, though in all honestly they weren’t really missed. “No More” is an important song in the stage production, but made little sense given other changes made in the film. The mysterious old man is not in the film, which frankly was an improvement in my book and made an already complex narrative a little les muddled. I was bummed that “Agony (reprise)” was cut, not because it was essential to the story – it certainly isn’t – but because I would have enjoyed more singing Chris Pine. The song reinforces the cad that the Prince is, but I understand their decision to eliminate it. There was also an original song for Meryl Streep that was written for the movie and filmed, but it ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor as well (though it will be on the DVD).
My main issue with the film adaptation is the changes that they made to Rapunzel’s story line. This is where I suspect the fingerprints of Disney are the most apparent, though I wish that they had stuck with the original story. The film version changes how her story is resolved and the result is a weakening of the overall story; the witch’s reaction and the song “Children Will Listen” don’t really work thanks to the edits that they’ve made. Her story has little to no weight in the film and she just abruptly disappears from the narrative. If you don’t know how it was supposed to go, you’ll still notice that something about her arc feels unresolved and the resolution feels tacked on and rushed. This is the one change that I wish they hadn’t made, not out of bling loyalty to the source material, but because I think that the edits made are detrimental to the film as a whole. If executed better or with more explanation it might have worked, but as is it was the one misstep in an otherwise very enjoyable movie. Though, for what it’s worth, I always thought Rapunzel’s storyline was one of the weak points of the stage version as well.
Some other thoughts:
- Christine Baranski and Lucy Punch have small roles as Cinderella’s step-mother and step-sister, respectively. Always nice to see both of them. Cinderella’s father doesn’t make it into the film adaption, but I don’t think anyone will miss him.
- Giants are surprisingly easy to deal with. And that means that the big climax of the film doesn’t really deliver. That was a problem that I had with the stage version as well, but the problem is only exasperated in the film. It’s all a lot of buildup to nothing.
- I really like the decision to move the location of where the song “On the Steps of the Palace” is sung. Makes more sense, is visually more interesting and is just one example of the movie having more flexibility than the stage play.
- Did everyone else know that Chris Pine’s dad was on CHiPs? I just found this out thanks to The Tonight Show and it blew my mind.
- My favorite line of the entire movie/play may be “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”
Into the Woods is a very enjoyable adaptation of a fairly beloved Broadway musical; it’s relatively faithful to the original and most of the changes made were fairly minor and helped to streamline the story. If you liked the play, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the execution of the film; the cast all do a fantastic job in bringing these characters to life. If you aren’t familiar with Into the Woods but enjoy musicals or creative takes on fairy tales, I think you’ll be satisfied. If you don’t like musicals, I’m not sure why you’re going to see Into the Woods. Reevaluate your decision making process. Into the Woods is a fun movie that kept me entertained and rekindled my love for the stage version. I only had a few quibbles with the film, primarily that I can’t get these songs out of my head.
Into the Woods is currently in wide release.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: everyone’s family is a little dysfunctional.
Now of course, these familial flaws aren’t all the big juicy issues that are the hallmark of real dysfunction. Every family doesn’t have a history of drinking or drugs, child or sexual abuse or extreme neglect. But peel back the layers of any family unit and you are going to find some sort of issues, even if they are smaller scale one like sibling rivalry or a child that didn’t feel like they got enough attention (real or perceived). It could be something as simple as in-laws that just don’t like each other. Humans are fallible people so it isn’t surprising that any collection of them will be imperfect. On some level, everyone thinks their family (however defined) is a little messed up – even the families that look pretty spectacular to the outside observer. Some hide it better than others, but it still exists. You may have to expand the circle out to include extended family, but I have yet to meet anyone whose family didn’t have a little bit of baggage.
However, the family at the center of August: Osage County has enough baggage for a cross continental trip. The Westons are some deeply screwed up people.
An adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film focuses on an unhappy reunion at the family homestead of Beverly (Sam Shepard) and Violet (Meryl Streep) Weston. A crisis has forced their three daughters to make the pilgrimage to their childhood home in Oklahoma, where the oppressive heat, close quarters and tragedy are a poor mix for family tranquility. Violet’s prescription drug habit and mean streak doesn’t help either. Barbara (Julia Roberts) brings her problems with her from Colorado in the form of her estranged husband (Ewan McGreggor) and sullen teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin). She is the only one of the sisters that can go toe to toe with their mother (but not without consequence). Shy Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) has sacrificed her own happiness to stay closer to home and help her parents. Flighty Karen (Juliette Lewis) searches for her happiness in a string of men and turns up with a sleazy new fiancée (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her quiet brother-in-law Charles (Chris Cooper) round out the family gathering, along with their meek son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is forced to live with constantly disappointing his difficult and derisive mother. Family secrets and long simmering resentments can’t be contained and bubble to the surface in explosive confrontations and revelations.
Sounds like a fun group, huh?
You can’t argue that this is a stellar cast; I think I counted six Oscar nominees among the bunch and this is really an actor’s movie. Character is a lot more important than plot in a lot of ways. Streep chews all the scenery in her over the top performance of family matriarch Violet. She completely commits to the performance which allows her to really go for broke with Violet’s addiction to narcotics and her seeming need to share her misery with her offspring. This is a showy role and could easily become cartoony, but Streep does her best to temper the performance. She is mostly successful, which is no surprise given Streep’s stature and her widespread acclaim. I don’t think that this is Streep’s best performance – it can sometimes just feel like too much – but she’s mesmerizing in the role.
What was utter astonishing to me was that Julia Roberts completely steals this film from Streep. I had honestly forgotten that Roberts can really act and her role in August: Osage County is definitely her best work in over a decade, if not the best work of her career. While Streep benefits from the role that has more to dig your teeth into, the role of Barbara is far more nuanced and allows Roberts to beautifully illustrate the bitterness and hardness that has taken over Barbara. All of the daughters bear the battle scars of growing up in this toxic household and have each developed their own survival strategies. For Barbara, this means slowly becoming the woman that she hates; her ability to go to war with Violet means that in the process she has become just as cold and unforgiving. There is not an ounce of vanity in her performance and in a movie where she is surrounded by some over the top characters and plot points, she manages to feel the most real and authentic. It is notable that Roberts’ trademark giant smile in largely absent; Barbara has no joy and happiness.
While everyone in the cast is uniformly excellent, some are certainly given more to do than others. This is really the Streep and Roberts show – both in focus and in screen time – though Martindale, Nicholson, and Cooper are giving enough work with to turn in memorable performances. Lewis, Cumberbatch, McGregor and Mulroney largely wind up taking the back seat; they each have an individual moment or two to shine, but their characters are largely undeveloped and secondary. It’s a shame that there was simply more talent in this movie than there was material. And I never got over the shock of hearing Cumberbatch speak with an American accent.
This is a very dark film, but there are still a number of laughs within August: Osage County as long as you count gallows humor. The hits keep coming in this film – there is one tragic revelation after another – and despite what the trailer may try to tell you this isn’t an uplifting film. But given how inherently unpleasant a lot of these characters are, it is less depressing than you would think. It isn’t all sunshine and roses, but when there were laughs it was a much needed release. There are definitely times in the film when you envy the person who was smart enough to die to get away from these people. This isn’t a film where people grow and change, so if you are looking for a real happy ending (or any concrete ending, really) this probably isn’t the film for you.
August: Osage County is a good movie, but not a great one. That’s unfortunate given the caliber of the talent assembled, but I am skeptical that this story works as well on the big screen as it would in the more intimate setting of live theater. In a lot of ways this film reminded me of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in tone and in subject matter (and I’m not the first commenter to say so). I tend to like my drama a little more on the subtle side, so while I wasn’t overly impressed with the story I was impressed with what the actors did with it. It’s rare that Streep isn’t the best performance in a movie, but this is one of those cases. Streep is solid as always, but it is Roberts that really shines in this film. It’s a shame that she’s been relegate to the best supporting actress category (at least for the Golden Globes) because August: Osage County is just as much her film as it is Streep’s. It is worth seeing this film simply to be reminded that Roberts can be quite the actress. It’s a great ensemble and the story has potential, but I ultimately didn’t think it fully delivered. Still immensely enjoyable to watch actors go to town with these colorful characters, but it is a step below many of the other probable Oscar contenders.