Thursday, January 23, 2014

Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Meryl Streep broke her own record once again and received her 18th nomination for playing Violet Weston, a vicious, drug addict matriarch in the movie based on Tracy Letts' play, August: Osage County. While many people doubted Streep's chances of getting nominated (and I was one of them), with hindsight, it seems absurd. Not only does Meryl have a crazy Oscar bait role, but she can also never do any wrong as far as the Academy is concerned. That being said, Meryl's chances of winning haven't been as slim since Helen Mirren swept everything.

August: Osage County as a movie shows us the limits of adapting a play to the big screen. For me, the performance of the play that I saw was among the best I've ever seen and the actress playing Violet gave what I consider the greatest stage performance that I've ever seen. However, I don't think the play is not as brilliant as some make it out to be: it really does offer plenty of opportunities for its actors, but it's a story that we have seen over and over again (that being said, I wasn't that impressed by the footages of the Broadway version, but Broadway hardly does it for me, sorry). It's a story that depends hugely on its cast and how much of it they are able to deliver. The adaptation for the big screen is one of the successful ones (hell, it's better than Doubt). It feels like more of a summary but the cast is indeed outstanding, but I especially want to praise two unsung heroes, Julianne Nicholson and Margo Martindale. They didn't get all the credit that they deserved (especially Nicholson, who was just heartbreaking). Julia Roberts did a good job here though I have to say that I don't really get all the love for her (and I'm actually a fan of hers in general) - she didn't nail all the edges in this character and the adaptation let her down and contrary to the public opinion she was less of a lead than she was in the play. I didn't have the impression that she was also turning into the monster that her mother is.

And who else plays that monster than Meryl Streep? Yes, as Tina Fey said, there are still good roles... for Meryl Streeps over sixty. I carefully considered all the other alternatives for the role and I figured that Meryl was a great choice for the part. Although in my opinion, Jane Fonda (why, what did you expect :P) could have nailed this role and would have killed as this vampire slash dragon lady and she would have also shown a new side of hers, I feel like Meryl was a respectable safe choice here. She's, above all, reliable: she can, of course, nail the accent, chew the scenery (in a good way, well, for me at least) and bring all the necessary number of viewers to this film. Naturally, all the usual talk started with people from test screenings bringing the news of her certain fourth Oscar.

Somehow over the course of awards season, the Streep fatigue and the backlash started and many people started to doubt her. That being said, I feel that the backlash is created exclusively on goldderby forums and the general public and the Academy surely didn't get the memos. They still love Meryl and everything she does - and you know what, rightfully so. This backlash that I was certainly aware of, had an impact on my expectations (and to this, you have to also add the initial talk that she wasn't the right choice for the role, at all). I was prepared that this lady is unworthy of every accolade she has achieved in her career, cannot give a decent performance and is even worse here.

And guess what, this is Meryl f*cking Streep. And guess what: she's worthy of all the accolades, usually gives amazing performances and she's even better than her average self here. Within the limits of the screenplay (because this is a diet version of Violet Weston), she just kills it and there's no other way to put it. Yep, she uses her "Meryl tricks" and guess what, once again it works. Her character appears on screen, unable to speak or keep balance and Meryl just nails it: right there in that moment, we get to know everything about this woman: she's a monster with a touch of humanity inside her (and that's also where we get to my criticism of Julia Roberts' performance: we don't get to see that Barbara starts from the opposite and almost ends up there). She breaks your heart and amazes you with her unbelievable talent at the same time.

That being said, Meryl is completely aware of the insanely dark comedic tone of the material and uses to her advantage: her line deliveries are insanely sharp and punch you right in your stomach while you're laughing your head off at the same time. We get a sort of perverted joy from all the vitriol that she spits out: we enjoy it and it's easy to see that Meryl enjoys it, too. Perhaps what's most appealing about this performance is how much she loves to do this part: she doesn't take all the opportunities for granted and doesn't miss any of them. And  what's best is how she's able to make her technical virtuosity flow out of her so effortlessly (I guess this point of mine that's highly argumentative to some). There's a buzz around Meryl that I feel whenever she's amazing and not even she's able to fake that. It's funny that you can test an actress who relies so heavily on the technical part solely with your guts. But if we come to think of it, its really the tester of how natural she is: if you are captivated by her, she did her job well, if not, then it's really just faking.

Also, Meryl fearlessly points out the desperation of this woman: the way we see her crazy dance to country music when she receives a shocking piece of news, high on pills, unable to express herself. It could seem like overreacting, but most of us tend to forget about the character's whole situation: we're talking about a drug addict, who's by the way dying of mouth cancer and is in constant pain, while also being abandoned and despised by her own family. And that's what makes her breathtaking scene at the dinner table resonate with me even more: those pills are indeed Violet's best friends. The obvious bitterness and sadness present in that scene make it a hard-hitting and heartbreaking cry for help. Violet has certain aspects of a drama queen inside her.

And as Violet sinks deeper and deeper, this performance gets more and more heartbreaking and the comedy of the play simply turns into something weirdly disturbing. But that's also how we get to why I would have wished for a little bit more. In the end, as all the characters get their big moments, the screenplay forgets about Violet in a way and blocks her journey, especially with this disappointing ending. In the play, the way it showed Violet's loneliness and devastation really made up for her lack of presence, but here, these efforts were cut short by a useless scene with Julia Roberts crying. Meryl was deprived of her big scene that would have been essential to make her performance more complete and more effective.

That being said, Meryl Streep gives an amazing performance as Violet Weston and although she was cheated out of some of the great opportunities of the play, she was still able to rock on the big screen once again. Haters are gonna hate, but guess what, I'm not one of them and I can do nothing but love this outstanding piece of work by this brilliant actress.

What do you think?


Louis Morgan said...

I did think she was effective, but I did feel too often her performance comes off as Streep giving a performance rather than completely becoming the character.

I do agree about Nicholson and Martindale, I wish either of them, especially Nicholson, had been nominated instead of Roberts in supporting especially since they were actually supporting.

dinasztie said...

I felt that the character gave all these performances and Meryl nailed the theatrical nature of Violet. She had to go over the top, IMO. :)

moviefilm said...

Jut today I posted my review of Roberts... :)
But I'm very glad for Meryl that you liked her so much...

Allen said...

I totally agree. Meryl was sublime. I think ever since Julie & Julie/The Iron Lady people (especially those online) like to give her a hard time about being over-the-top, but the character of Violet is OTT, and I thought Meryl executed that excellently.

I also agree about Julianne Nicholson. She resonated so much with me. It's a shame she was never in the conversation for Supporting Actress.

Glad you're blogging again btw!

Derek Bowman said...

I'm glad we agree on something, I also loved Meryl here! :)

It's absolutely the type of role that calls for being OTT, and Meryl balances that with emotion nicely in quieter moments. Sometimes the role itself is a little TOO much (running away in the field, dancing when the police come), but I blame the role. Meryl handles those histrionic moments as best she can. Great review!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Louis a little. It was definitely an OTT role but personally I'd have loved it more if it was more wild and unpredictable instead of her calculated style. Still, I love Meryl and I think her interpretation is great nonetheless :)
What do you think if Jessica Lange played the role? Her pill popping, monster witch mom on AHS was fantastic imo.

elizabeth said...

Hey D I didn't see the film but I have a few questions for you:
1 . Where's your winner for 1998?
It's Fernanda again (I'm brazilian , but that's not why I hope so) or Cate ?
2. What did you think of Vanessa Redgrave in Isadora ? Second Serve? Playing for Time? Prick your Ears? and Julia of course? Don't forget Coriolanus and Song for Marion ... What's your take on her now? And about her and Jane in "The Butler" you like them?
Bye, love your blog , hope Cate, Sandra or Amy wins... Meryl i'm not crazy about her, and I think Great Glenn and Sissy Spacek like you said once would do much better in the role... You said Sissy but I think Glenn would have nailed it... Bye!!!

elizabeth said...

And I'm not a fan of Judy ... But it's your blog keep the good writing hehehe

dinasztie said...

Anon: Jessica would be an interesting choice, but she's typically a very subtle actress, who goes very much over the top if she does. A great director would be needed who can help her find the balance.

Derek: WTF? I thought you didn't like her. But we agree on something!!!!! LOL. And thanks. :)

Elizabeth: I still have to think about 1998. I love both of those ladies very much so I really need a rewatch. And oh yeah, Great Glenn (I'm glad you're also using that name). Judy Davis (if you mean her by Judy) is in my opinion among the best, but I totally understand those who have problems with her. The fact that she didn't win for Husbands and Wives is an outrage. If you talk about Judy Garland, I can't say if I'm a fan because I only saw Oz, A Star is Born and JAN. :) But I'm guessing you meant Davis. :)

Thanks for the support, I'm glad to be back.

Fritz said...

I did not see her yet but I guess that I will like her in the end. Basically, I always end up liking performances by Meryl but I have to be honest that I am suffering from Meryl-fatiguee since 2006... :)

Carlos (The Final Oscar) said...

I doubted Streep after seeing trailer. But guess what, I LOVE HER in this!

I'm not as disappointed with the ending, but felt like two endings, something that bothers me.

vinnieh said...

Excellent post, glad to see you blogging again.

mrripley said...

I have to disagree,i thought she was miscast and left me wondering if she could handle stage roles esp after the misstep of doubt,roberts i loved and nicholson too,shame that julias in the wrong category where she should replace streep

dinasztie said...

mrripley: Since I wasn't that fond of Julia, I'm not saying that she should replace Streep. She's in the wrong category. But even in lead, I haev a good 6-7 contenders ahead of her.

elizabeth said...

Hey Dinasztie , I have nothing against Judy Davis, I just forgot it's Judi Dench that I don't love... I meant Judi not Judy (DAVIS) heheh
Do you really mean that she should have on over Marisa Tomei? Really? I think she was great in "Passage to India" even through my love for Vanessa in "The Bostonians" it's something I was so mad at you cause you changed your winner...
But What's your take on Vanessa?
Did you liked her in Isadora? Second Serve? Playing for Time? Prick your ears? Song for Marion? Letters for Juliet? Coriolanus?
I love her in everything but I really appreciate your blog , So, I will like to know your opinion ... Think Great Glenn ( I'm not copying you but after I see you right It , I can't use another name for Great Glenn ... Jezzz hhehehhee)
Bye... Hope your answer soon ...
And my predictions are...

elizabeth said...

Opss me again

1. Cate
2. Sandra
3. Amy
4. Meryl
5. Judi

Sylvain Labrousse said...

Who's next after Meryl dinasztie ?
I can't wait ^^

dinasztie said...


I haven't seen that much from Redgrave, only her nominated work. I wasn't that impressed by some of them but one can see that she's an amazing actress. I love The Bostonians and Julia the most. I tend to go back and forth between Judy and Vanessa in 1984 so I might change again. ;)

Yep, Judy Davis should have won for Husbands and Wives.

I don't have a copyright on the name Great Glenn and I'm happy if more and more people use it. :D

Ken said...

hey dinasztie, when are you going to do 2008? I've been dying to hear your thoughts on that year, in which Best Actress imo should've gone to Anne Hathaway.

dinasztie said...

Ken: First I'm gonna finish this year, then '93, then '99. I cannot promise anything yet. :/

Michael555 said...

I can't believe that Meryl got so many negative reviews for this, ridiculous!