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August: Osage County

film shortPlaywright (and sometimes actor) Tracy Letts garnered a Pulitzer Prize for “August: Osage County,” which first hit Broadway in 2007 with actress Deanna Dunagan in the lead role of Violet, the 65-year-old, boozing, pill-popping, cancer-stricken, sharp-tongued matriarch of the Weston family. Estelle Parsons later morphed into the role on tour and did a superb job with it. On stage, the spectacle unfolded into a brilliant, three-act odyssey of dysfunctional family dynamics and the emotional quicksand from which people struggle to be freed.

The much-anticipated film directed by John Wells (The Company of Men) mirrors the play and benefits from a screen adaptation from Letts himself—nobody knows the material better, after all. But direction and screenwriting, as prolific and layered as it is at times, collide with each other far too often here to produce the most effective result: To evoke a genuine, lingering empathy for the characters and feel moved by their journey, however sour it turns. As a director, Wells takes somewhat of a hands-off approach, freeing the creative reigns on his actors too often, most notably Meryl Streep—divine as she is as toxic Violet—and Julia Roberts, who, holding her own opposite a scenery-chewing Streep, still manages to turn in one of the best performances of her career. As a result, there’s a tendency to feel continually assaulted by the dysfunction on screen rather than be moved by it to the degree that some compassion kicks in. It’s a subtle fault and at times weighs down what, overall, is a memorable tour de force packed to the brim with some of the finest performances—individual and collective—to hit the screen in some time. The tale unfolds in the Weston home in rural Oklahoma where several family members return after patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard) disappears. There are sisters (Roberts, Juliette Lewis and a noteworthy Julianne Nicholson), a plucky aunt (oh, it’s hard not to adore you, Margo Martindale), the aunt’s hubby (Chris Cooper) and son (Benedict Cumberbatch), among others. And everyone, aside from Cooper’s character, is holding onto some family resentment. The best verbal boxing matches occur between Streep and Roberts—both actresses have already garnered Golden Globe noms and Oscar noms will follow. But while the pace of the play allowed for an emotional storm to build upon itself, the film feels more like a creative hurricane, a wicked, and yet, at times, entertaining, latter day Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which, like it’s lead, Violet, just doesn’t know when to let go. Rated PG-13. 121 minutes. ★★★/4

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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