Crowdpleaser "August: Osage County" (December 25) is a messy sprawling dysfunctional family drama that manages to wring some tears by its utterly satisfying conclusion.
There's a reason why Tracy Letts' 2008 Pulitzer-Prize winner was so popular, from Steppenwolf to Broadway. Developed by Harvey Weinstein and Letts (who has adapted several of his plays less successfully), with John Wells on board as director and George Clooney and Grant Heslov as producers, the movie is anchored by two powerful actresses: Meryl Streep as the Weston family matriarch wailing against the wind, high on pills as she fights mouth cancer, and Julia Roberts as her oldest daughter Barbara. She summons anger and strength as she stands up to her mighty mother--and loses control during a memorable post-funeral dinner scene.
There's no room for vanity in this movie, as everyone faces off against a relative and behaves badly, at some point, although the men (Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney and Benedict Cumberbatch) provide some different colors.
At the Toronto International Film Festival press conference Tuesday morning (which I moderated), the actors were grateful for a chance to play these richly drawn characters and commended the absent Streep for her caretaking and hard work. They stayed in a group of condos out in the middle of nowhere, Cooper said, and after a day's work would hang with Mama Streep, preparing for the next day. Roberts made a point of thanking Streep, and deflected a question about who was running for Oscar nominations in what category.
Let me make this clear: Roberts and Streep should both be in the running for Best Actress nominations; to put Streep in supporting is absurd. She dominates the movie as the foulest-mouthed unrepentant loving Bad Mother since Shirley MacLaine in "Terms of Endearment."
Review roundup and full press conference video is below: