Thursday, September 30, 2010

Streep and Roberts for "August: Osage County"

The news, which isn't actual news yet so much as 'in talks' talking-points (the bulk of online movie articles), is this: Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts will take the plum Oscar bait roles of the pill-popping abusive matriarch Violet and eldest control-freak daughter Barbara in August: Osage County. The new (to feature directing) John Wells will sit in the director's chair instead of Mike Nichols as previously rumored.  It seems quite risky to give a project this complex and fraught with ways in which it could go wrong to a newbie but maybe his debut film (The Company Men) is unexpectedly rich?

 One of the most popular posts in the history of The Film Experience was our discussion of the casting of this genius actress-heavy play. It's THE stage-to-screen project to watch for any actressexual out there since the cast that matters is all female and the roles, to a one, are juicy with extra pulp. (The supporting female roles could put Oscars on shelves, too.)This news, if it does become actual news, is a weird sort of exciting/disappointing.

As many of you have gleaned I am something of an über Streep fan but I think she's wrong for this part. Streep has a glorious earthy warmth as a performer and Violet needs the opposite. Streep's most successful "cold" performances were in A Cry in the Dark (which came during the amazing chameleon years) and The Devil Wears Prada (see previous post) which came during her comedic ascendance. To do justice to Violet, she'd need to be as good as she was in both pictures... simultaneously. And sometimes when Streep goes cold (Doubt, The Manchurian Candidate) she pushes too much. Violet is more complicated than either the Prada or Cry roles and requires both jagged comic steel and dormant volcanic drama ... and both need to be channelled through a druggy fog for the entire film. In short: it's an A+ dream role, better than many whole Best Actress rosters combined.

I like Julia Roberts.

If Julia works as hard for August as she did for Erin Brockovich or Closer than she might absolutely nail the role of exhausted controlling Barbara. But how often does Julia work as hard as she does in those two movies? When you're a massive star with more innate charisma than most performers can muster over the entirety of a career, coasting is an ever present danger. If she coasts at all, you'll lose the electricity of the play. The play just crackles with the stuff. Any loss of that and you could have a disaster on your hands.

Streep is such a consummate performer that, whether miscast or not, many people will demand she win a third Oscar because she will be so spectacularly watchable in the end. Even if it's not quite what the movie needs. (We'll see. I can't say how badly I hope to be wrong.)

I watched the 3 hour play from the edge of my seat and loved-loved-loved. I will anxiously await the movie. But both casting decisions feel like the kind anyone could and would make without actually knowing anything about the play, the roles, the tone or what kind of movie it would need to be to be a great one. It reeks of corporate laziness. They are rather inarguably the most famous senior citizen actress and the most famous middle age actress; "STREEP | ROBERTS" will look great on a marquee. But it's sad to cast source material this magnificent with no regard for the actual source material, and all eyes towards some imaginary marquee.

Movies should come first, not their ad campaigns.

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