It’s been almost six years since Tracy Letts‘ August: Osage County opened big-time on Broadway and five and a half years since it won a bagful of Tony Awards. And it’s been a good three-plus years since the film version began to be developed. And now the climax — the 12.25.13 Weinstein Co. release will be shown today (late this afternoon at a p & i screening, early this evening at Roy Thomson Hall) and the verdicts will be flying fast and furious by…oh, a little after 7 pm eastern?
The buzz around town is guarded. Almost every press person I’ve spoken to about it has offered a variation of the following: “Hopefully, yeah, sure…looking forward. An obvious Oscar nomination possibility for Meryl Streep…okay, maybe Streep but Harvey can’t play the ‘she’s due’ card any more. But almost certainly one for Julia Roberts, right? Or maybe not. Who knows? But translating a successful stage play definitely isn’t easy, especially when you cut roughly an hour out of the play’s over-three-hour running time, and John Wells directing …I don’t know, man. Remember The Company Men?”
On 3.11.13 I ran a piece called “August Resistance“, which was basically about dug-in prejudices shared by Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet and Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil.
“Can you guys briefly explain your basic prejudice about August: Osage County?,” I wrote. “Tom, you told me months ago that you don’t see it working all that well as a film, and that one-set, dialogue-driven, Long Day’s Journey Into Night-like plays of this sort don’t translate all that well into movies and so on. Is it because John Wells is the director, and his last film, The Company Men, wasn’t all that great? I was hugely impressed by the play when I saw it in NYC…what was it, five years ago?”
“Brevet said ‘it’s not necessarily a prejudice as much as it’s up against a lot of strong, though unseen, competition. Plus a talky dark comedy from John Wells just doesn’t jump out at me as an instant Best Picture front-runner beyond the actors that will surely be competing for nominations.”
“O’Neil answered thusly: ‘I’m skeptical about another stage-to-screen transfer of a Broadway show that won Best Play. Look at the recent disappointments (War Horse, Doubt, God of Carnage) and fiascos (History Boys, Proof).
“I think producers like Harvey who invest in both Hollywood film and Broadway theater get blinding hard-ons for shows that have overblown reputations because they won awards on Broadway. Let’s be honest — there’s so little new, quality-level theater on Broadway competing for Best Play that lightweight puff like History Boys can win. That doesn’t mean it should be made into a movie. Anybody who’s actually seen August: Osage County knows that nothing at all happens for three hours except for an intoxicated, hellcat momma staggering around the stage, shrieking wisecracks and insults. The wisecracks aren’t really clever, the characters are one-dimensional and…wait, does it have a plot?”
My response was that “I know I loved the play and that it’s a corrosive family drama and that all the theatre critics went apeshit over it. Most of us would be shocked, I think, if at least some of that power didn’t translate to the screen. But we know right now that there’s a little bit of resistance out there, however brusque or premature it might sound.”
I think I feel a certain kinship with August: Osage County because I live and work in a corrosive and acromonious environment called Hollywood Elsewhere. Here’s how I put it four years ago:
“We all have two concurrent identities and personalities — one we inhabit and present in face-to-face dealings with fair-weather friends, business allies, acquaintances and whatnot, and one that comes out when we’re dealing with disshevelled family members in the kitchen at 12:30 am.
“If you’re part of a family that is more frustrated and dysfunctional than not, the latter is almost always acidic and wounding and backbiting and accusatory in an August: Osage County-slash-Lion in Winter sense. The HE talk-back sword-stabbings and cat ‘o’ nine tail flailings that seem to happen here every other day are basically family squabbles. The difference, of course, is that it’s not happening privately in a kitchen but on a kind of world stage with kids in Kabul keeping up with the occasional mud-throwings along with the various industry, media and uber types who regularly visit.”
“I sometimes regard them as Edward Albee-ish or John Osborne-esque, but they often feel…well, let’s not be facile. But they do feel depleting and fatiguing and mystifying, even, from time to time. People keep saying I’ve made my own bed with the sharp and blunt tone in my writing, but I like to think that I at least take the time to sculpt and rephrase and mull things over and finally pull back a bit before hitting ‘save.’ Ah, well. Ah, hell.”