The all-star film version of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County opens here January 10 (postponed from December 25, which means we have to suffer our own horrible relatives all Christmas day instead of escaping to spend time with Letts' fictional ones). Meryl Streep tops the cast list as pill-pounding monster-matriarch Violet Weston. Daughters Barbara, Ivy and Karen are played, respectively, by Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis. Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney and Ewan McGregor play the husbands, lovers and fiances. Margo Martindale is Mattie Fae, Violet's sister.
If you saw the three-act play on Broadway, in the national tour that came to the Winspear or the local production at WaterTower Theatre, you already know what some of the shattering plot developments will be in the film, which hews pretty closely to the theater script. August: Osage County has the dysfunctional Weston family reuniting in Pawhuska, Oklahome, after a tragedy. They spill secrets, casseroles and booze around the dining table over the course of several days and nights. Things get ugly and then uglier. There's even a cat fight among the gals.
Director John Wells, keeping his cast in excruciatingly tight closeups, and Letts, condensing his three-hour play into a taut two-hour screenplay, provide the film with some chilling and memorable cinematic moments. Without giving anything away plotwise, here are five of the best to look forward to:
1. The first shot of Streep as Violet, with chemo-ravaged hair, complexion as pale and wrinkled as dry tissue, eyes red-rimmed, stumbling down a flight of stairs looking for her husband Beverly, played by Sam Shepard. (In much of the film, Streep's character covers her chemo-hair with a brunet wig, meaning the actress is double-wigging it. What a trouper.)
2. Julia Roberts, playing Violet's eldest daughter, chasing Streep across a rural Oklahoma field dotted with enormous hay bales. When they collapse on the yellow prairie grass, it's an image right out of an Andrew Wyeth painting.
3. Benedict Cumberbatch, as simple-minded cousin "Little Charles," telling his dad (Chris Cooper) he loves him. It's shot with the men standing stiffly on either side of a parked car. Sad and beautiful.
4. Streep's subtle shifts of expression while delivering Violet's rambling story about her childhood wish for a pair of cowboy boots -- just as painful and poignant as the stage version. The scene is done in one long take (or it seems that way). Meryl Streep shedding tears on the big screen is why we still need movies.
5. Julianne Nicholson's reaction to Violet's meanest bit of "truth telling." Gut-wrenching. Nicholson's non-showy performance as spinster Ivy, the most put-upon Weston sister, balances Roberts' exaggerated "face acting" as super-angry Barbara. Streep, Roberts and Martindale will get all the award nominations, but Nicholson's doing Oscar-worthy work.
There are more, of course. Let's compare notes when the movie opens.