Oscars Countdown 2014 - August: Osage County

Ensign Lestat's Oscars Countdown, 21/01/2014

'August: Osage County'

Nominations - Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Supporting Actress (Julia Roberts)
'August: Osage County' is the kind of film I avoid watching. The story of a dysfunctional, estranged family being brought together under constrained circumstances and eventually unearthing unpalatable truths and the like is really not how I want to spend an evening.

But sacrifices must be made in the greater good of... blog kind. There may be spoilers, so tread carefully. So, yes, I stoically sat through the film, expecting it to be greater than the sum of my grievances, only to find that it is worse. Well, when I say worse, it's only because I cared not for a single character in the film, and perhaps that was the whole point. Who knows. Turns out the film was based on a play, and well, in hindsight it plays out as such, as well, because the scenes are mostly static, and the story plays out almost completely via verbal discourse.

As I mentioned earlier, the unlikeable characters make this film a difficult watch. It's not an uncomfortable viewing, neither does it hark back to reality (though, to some, it may). Fact is, the majority of us who are in contact with any extended relations know for a fact that their family is dysfunctional and imminently dislikeable (seriously, is that even a word?). I betcha if we all had the talent, we could all write copious reams of the goings-on of our own families, because, truth is stranger than fiction. In 'August', it's not as much as that the story is not real, it just seems so... other. Again, this may just be me, but I don't believe we need to exaggerate the fact that human beings can be essentially mean and hurtful or that sometimes running away is the only option.

However, this blog is not a review. This is about the Oscars. The film assembles an accomplished ensemble cast, though the protagonists are warring mother and daughter, Violet (Meryl Streep) and Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts). The immense focus on these two characters has landed both actors an Oscar nomination each. However, Roberts' supporting nomination seems a tad unfair, considering she has an equal amount of screen-time.

Roberts' performance was accomplished and believable, but she was, at every given point, still being Julia Roberts. There was nothing new of different about her acting. This may just be the biggest issue with adapted plays - what is outstanding on the stage, modulations of voices, enunciation of emotion, doesn't set necessarily set the screen alight. Problems, problems.

However, I still credit her with putting in a good performance, unlike Meryl Streep. Now, I'll be the first to say that I was the rarity who had her pegged to win the Oscar for 'The Iron Lady' - she was impeccable and carried the makeup fabulously. She got lost in her character, and at no point made her a caricature. People were upset that she'd bagged a second one over potential first-time winner Viola Davis. Davis was great in her role, but not memorable. Fact is, Davis is superbly talented, and she will get an Oscar sooner rather than later, as long as deserved projects come her way. I'm all for the underdog, but not that year.

Now that I've watched 'August' however, I am astounded by the choice of Streep, because her performance was over-the-top at best and ham-handed at worst. So shoot me, it's the truth. A drug-addicted, cancer-sufferer making it through her husband's funeral and wake is a tremendous role, utterly ruined in this film. There was one scene in which she shone, and that was the one when she's talking to her on-screen sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale). That's the only scene that felt realistic to me. All the others, terribly overdone. I'd have handed it to her had her character been overwrought, but that was clearly not the case.

The only credible performance in the film was Benedict Cumberbatch (no, I'm not a Cumberbatchian, or whatever his fans are called), as he plays a character so unlike the others I've seen him as. To others he may not have been a revelation, but I was impressed by him, indeed. Most of the other actors, including the always delightful Ewan McGregor just seemed to be going through the motions. No one seemed interested in doing anything of note.

This time around, as I watched the Oscar nominations announced, the Best Actress category disappointed me the most, perhaps because I feel like the right kind of characters are not being portrayed. That's not the actors' fault, of course, but my concern remains. At least this year, the women are central characters in their films, unlike a few years ago when they were all wives or girlfriends.

I'm hoping Streep doesn't get the Oscar - particularly heartless of me, since I have seen only one other performance. But, oh, the standards will dip if this becomes a precedent. Not worth it. 

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