August: Osage County Directed by: John Wells Written by: Tracy Letts (screenplay & play) Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper and Ewan McGregor
There’s more capital ‘A’ Acting per minute in August: Osage County than in any movie I’ve seen in recent years. It’s as if instead of holding the Oscars this year, they’ve decided to lock a bunch of award-hungry famous people in a house and let them fight to the melodramatic death for the trophies. That isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when the script (adapted by Tracy Letts from his Pulitzer-winning play) is a more vulgar version of nearly every hateful, generic family drama ever created. Bruised souls, past wrongs, marital turmoil, generational gap humor and a handful of “gasp!” revelations don’t form a story as much as scattered scenes meant to highlight the various thespians.
In that regard Meryl Streep practically swallows the movie whole as Violet Weston, the pill-addicted, “truth-tellin'” matriarch of this emotionally volatile clan. Director John Wells lavishes so much attention on her darting eyes and fading-but-indignant pride that the actress takes center stage even when it’s not her turn. Watching any Streep movie in the past few years this isn’t really a surprise. The Iron Lady was practically a one-woman show, and the very capable Amy Adams got engulfed in both Julie and Julia and Doubt. The only one to really hold their own against her in recent years is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the embattled priest in the latter.
Fresh off her decades-in-the-making third Academy Award victory, now seems the perfect time to take a look back at her unprecedented acting career. Widely considered one of the finest screen actresses living or dead, her gift with accents is almost as iconic as her darting eye movements. Streep is one of those performers who are imminently watcheable even if the movies are terrible (The Iron Lady, Mamma Mia!). And yes, while she’s shone brightly in her fair share of duds, she does the same in movies that are actually good, too. Whether she’s playing a notable historical figure like Thatcher or Julia Child or a dry-witted monster like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, you never stop seeing her. Each performance is a unique creation all its own, but you can still see her underneath it.
The Iron Lady Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd Written by: Abi Morgan (screenplay) Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach and Iain Glen
It’s no surprise at all that Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher is amazingly conceived and executed, worthy of any acting trophy that exists. Everything from the posture to the voice and especially those trademark darting eyes are in full force in a movie that unfortunately fails to capture the true gravity of its subject.
Phyllida Lloyd, whose credentials include the much-maligned screen adaptation of Mamma Mia!, brings a typical biopic aesthetic to The Iron Lady. Every character fits in its appropriate place and blends in with the environment unless they aren’t supposed to. Abi Morgan’s screenplay, the biggest thing to blame for this film’s mediocrity, often extenuates Thatcher’s struggle to be taken seriously as a female politician. Everything else is glossed over.