August: Osage County offers us pseudo-voiceover to start. Bev (Sam Shepard) is talking to, as it turns out, Johna (Misty Upham) who is hiring to help him out--he's getting old. But, she's offscreen until he's stopped talking, until Violet (Meryl Streep) interrupts. It's a cheat. There will, of course, be no voiceover for the rest of the film.
Then Bev leaves and the play gets going. And, it is a play, or was. Only a few scenes early on are really staged differently than they would have to be on stage. This is a talky film, the kind of movie that brings a big ol' family together and lets the sparks fly. Give us a family, throw in a funeral or a wedding or a holiday and the drama writes itself. I saw this two years ago, of course, when Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep were nominated for Oscars, but I actually don't remember much of the specifics anymore. In my head, it's filed away with the likes of The Celebration or Rachel Getting Married, or even Home for the Holidays.
For Streep, one might suspect she went for this role just for the awards-bait. Nominated every couple years since 1979, she'd only won three times, including the year before August: Osage County for The Iron Lady--I never ended up seeing that one for some reason, even with the nomination. Maybe I was sidetracked by life not going so well at the time.
Great cast all around. Streep, Roberts, Ewan McGregor, and for this month, we're seeing Abigail Breslin for the second time, Juliette Lewis for the third. Originally, August: Osage County was supposed to get me from Beginners to Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story... which should give you a clue of what's going on in this blog this month. I've only got a few days to really get into it before this month comes to its end. The presentation of family in this movie makes a good comparison, because so many movies link up to each other in so many different ways. Sometimes, they share blood--filmmakers or actors--sometimes they share themes. Not just this month but, we've seen some of these actors before in this blog. Streep and Cooper are both in Adaptation. McGregor is in Moulin Rouge. Mulroney is in Struck by Lightning, The Grey and Young Guns. (And one Western I that I ended up skipping in my month of Westerns--Blackthorn--starred Shepard.) That's like twenty days worth of this blog right there. Just in this one film. This one family.
Like a family, the movies don't have to have anything to do with one another. Like this past month--you've got science fiction fantasy like The Fifth Element, ridiculous family comedy like North, a biopic like Chaplin, serious historical drama like Selma, zombies in Zombieland, criminals in Fargo, teenagers dancing in Footloose and doing drugs in Dazed and Confused.
Pause for the big dinner centerpiece of this film.
I would love to see a stage production of this one. The film version's nice, but I keep thinking how this probably took many days to film just this big dinner scene. Many days, many camera setups, many takes. Stage version has got to be intense.
This kind of setup works so well because I think we can all understand it--how the people you love most in the world under the right circumstances can suddenly feel like the people you hate most in the world. It's a matter of investment, I think. A strange does something I don't like, I might rant about it online, complain about it off and on for a week. But, a family member pisses me off and that's going to get referenced for years. It's going to sit in the back of my mind every time I'm around that person. It's going to taint every interaction we have for a while. If we're lucky, it's a rare instance and life moves on. But, the more of those moments you get with one person, the harder the recovery is going to be. You find yourself like Julia Roberts tackling Meryl Streep to the ground over a bottle of pills. Or whatever the verbal equivalent is...
Or sometimes even family feels like strangers, like Ivy's (Julianne Nicholson) take on it here:
I can't perpetuate these myths of family or sisterhood anymore. We're just people, some of us accidentally connected by genetics, a random selection of cells.
Other times, family is all that matters. And, each person is connected to each other person, like each movie is connected to each other movie for me. And when they don't piss me off, I can lose myself in them--the family or the movie. Barbara (Roberts) just woke up next to Bill (McGregor), and they've been separated up until the timeframe of this film and not telling anyone and I know that moment, waking up next to someone you soon won't be waking up next to anymore. If can find my self in that moment. I've written before in this blog about punctum--that moment where the story becomes real for you, the moment where it really connects. Barbara refusing Bill's hand early in the film, Barbara waking up with Bill's arm around her and then getting out of bed... These moments hit me more than all the drama at the dinner table, though I've seen plenty of family yelling...
I commented on an article the other day on Facebook, some guy's notion that film needs to be enjoyable. That doesn't work for me. Sometimes, I need film to be painful. I need it to hurt. Gotta balance out the joyous moments. If film can only be joyful, it just wouldn't be honest.