Streep is brilliantly awful in August: Osage County

A review by Brenda Daniels

August: Osage County is a story about relationships. Relationships within a family and a group of close friends. It is set during a stiflingly hot August in Oklahoma. A hot, dark, airless house. A story of three parakeets, subtropical birds used to heat, who died in the house. Both house and birds are symbols of heat, a theme that pervades throughout the action.

The film, based on a play by the same name, stars Meryl Streep as Violet Weston, the powerful, unlikeable matriarch of the Weston family who is dying of cancer. Right near the beginning of the story Violet’s husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard), goes missing and is found dead, having committed suicide.

This precipitates a gathering of the family – three daughters and their families/partners – and close friends. The rest of the film depicts the characters’ faulty inter-relatedness and their dysfunctional lives.

Streep is brilliantly awful as the mother, wife and friend who proves to be the antithesis of what her role demands. She is harsh, confrontational, abusive and mean – the product of a hard life – exhibiting a toughness that has helped her survive thus far.

She turns that toughness onto her family, testing each one in turn to see if they can “stand the heat”.

All three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) suffer their mother’s cruel tongue, but it’s Barbara who seems to be the strongest and therefore most able to withstand the barrage of abuse.

Roberts is good in this serious role, although there are times when her angry outbursts seem too staged.

As the action progresses family secrets spill out and each character’s struggles are revealed. This kept me engrossed and thinking right to the very end and beyond. More than that, it was the multi-layered, complex characters and how they related to one another that held my attention.

A meaty, thought-provoking film, August: Osage County releases at Ster Kinekor Classic Theatres countrywide in South Africa on Friday 14 March. It carries an age restriction of 16L.

Julia Roberts at the Torronto Film Festival opening of the film, 2013 (Source: Creative Commons)

Julia Roberts at the Torronto Film Festival opening of the film, 2013 (Source: Creative Commons)

A stage enactment of August: Osage County (Source: Creative Commons)

A stage enactment of August: Osage County (Source: Creative Commons)

 

Hairstyles show deeper meaning in American Hustle

A review by Brenda Daniels

American Hustle has been nominated for Best Picture and various other awards for the upcoming Oscar ceremony on 3 March, so I went along to the South African preview to see what all the fuss was about.

The film, set in New Jersey in the 1970s, tells the story of con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), and his partner, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two meet and become lovers and then, posing as a Briton with “banking connections”, Sydney helps Irving take his underhand dealings to a new level. Caught out by FBI agent, Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), they are lured into an even bigger world of crime in an effort to catch dirty politicians and the mafia red-handed.

Cooper brought a certain manic amusement to his role as an agent determined to make it big and I enjoyed this. The hoodwinked politician, Mayor Carmine Polito, played by Jeremy Renner, had a certain endearing vulnerability to him, and Irving, convincingly played by Bale, had a soft side to him, exhibiting patience with his dumb wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), and affection for his young son.

The film opens with Irving working on an elaborate “comb-over” hairdo, and most of the characters sported hairstyles that required some work. This aspect seemed to mirror the characters’ fake lifestyles, and highlighted their weak efforts at, now and then, wanting to “be real” with each other.

Apart from these mildly redeeming qualities the characters and action in American Hustle are relentlessly seedy.

It was hard, and in fact quite boring, to enjoy a two-hour film that gave no interesting message, showed no characters I could identify with enough to care about, and provided no relief from the dirt. Whilst I don’t like the 70s era with its iconic clothing, music, coiffeurs and American mobsters, there are viewers who do. They’ll get plenty in this film.

American Hustle opens at Ster Kinekor in South Africa on 28 February. It carries an age restriction of 16LS.

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)

Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Amy Adams in a scene of American Hustle (Source: Creative Commons)