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Archive for January, 2014

Happy Families

August: Osage County– A Film Review

PLACE: Sunday, 1:00 pm. Limelight Tuggeranong, Cinema 2
PIC: August: Osage County
PEEPS: About forty present, 90% armed only with X chromosomes

Quite distinct from the mauling mass in the foyer, awaiting one of several serves of animated children’s fare. No-one who appeared to have been diverted from attendance at SummerNats, Canberra’s local BoganFest that attracts the mullet-wearers of much of the rest of Australia.

This is Tuggeranong, aka Tuggers, known as Canberra’s Nappy Valley until about fifteen years ago, so we had ads for fast food, an apartment hotel for visitors and, as is apparently required by law in Canberra, a jeweller. Previews for Divergent (a movie about some kind of genetic difference and why it leads to actors having to go through really tedious looking explanatory scenes) The Monuments Men (a bunch of comic actors dress up as soldiers and rescue great art from the Nazis) and Noah (Our Russ* works wonders for genetic diversity in the face of climate change). Nothing resembling a pattern.

August: Osage County is an adaptation of a play by Tracy Letts, and its bloodline shows in a production that is, inevitably, full of talking and high-profile acting. Out in the American West** poet Beverley Weston (a he, played briefly by Same Shepard) is a drunk, married to Violet (Meryl Streep), who has cancer, a prescription medicine habit and a talent for unrelenting nastiness that belongs in Australian politics. Beverley goes missing, and this brings the couple’s daughters and the rest of the family into the same zone. There’s Barbara (Julia Roberts), in the last days of her marriage to Bill (Ewan McGregor), accompanied by their teenage daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). There’s scatty Karen (Juliette Lewis), about to marry the sleazy Steve (Dermot Mulroney). And there’s Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), still at or near home and in love with her cousin, Little Charley (Benedict Cumberbatch), the son of Violet’s sister Mattie Fay (Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper). It’s an ensemble cast, and a very good one, well directed, playing wounded people, all at pivotal points in their lives.

Apparently unaided by CGI and special effects***, the plot that advances is one where secrets and deceits are revealed, the thin covering destroyed by the acid and bile that spews from Violet and, at times, from the other family members. It’s an opportunity to reflect on whether we survive as a society and as families because of the lies, or despite them. It’s savagery below the veneer, and one might wonder why unhappy families, despite being unhappy, get all the best lines in drama and in real life.

As indicated, the film is not unlike a stage production**** and at times it seems slow. But those slow passages are like watching the clouds gather for the next, inevitable, thunderstorm. Set mostly inside a poorly lit house, it may seem claustrophobic, but again this adds to its ultimate value as drama.

Four flat whites, at least one of them to wash the pills down. Not a date movie, unless one’s surname is Borgia.


* – the very fine and gifted Australian actor and sometime loudmouthed EnZedder boofhead.
** – specifically, Oklahoma, near its northern border with Kansas.
*** – I assume there were some effects, but that they fitted in and progressed the story, rather than creating it.
**** – compare 1982’s very fine Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (with a much weaker cast than this) and filmed adaptations of Tennessee Williams.

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