Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

January 7, 2014

CALLERI: Meryl Streep makes 'August' bearable


Niagara Gazette — The original play by Tracy Letts (a man by the way; Tracy/Beverly) won a Pulitzer Prize and five Broadway Tony Awards, including best play. What probably worked well on stage, people gathered in a house filled with building tension as they erupt in anger and are cracking for a chance to rip each other apart, feels manufactured in the movie. I never believed they were members of one family. You get the sense that the various performers showed up on the set and didn’t get to know each other. Blame director John Wells for that. Letts wrote the choppy screenplay, removing an hour from his three-hour drama. The movie material rings false.

Almost everyone will participate in the bickering. There will be rare moments of togetherness, but the seething cauldron of hate that simmers below the surface will eventually explode. Dinner plates will be broken. Tears will flow. And there will be a poorly-staged fight between two women that ends with them thrashing on the floor. Dysfunction thy name is Weston. But all of this is a prelude to the big revelation. I won’t tell you what it is, but it’s a weak attempt at raising the dramatic bar. The secret is not something as mundane as adultery and divorce. This gang would find that too phony.

As I watched the movie, I thought rather quickly that I was watching performers playing a game of “can you top this?” Nostalgia is kicked aside with sarcasm. Withering looks telegraph disgust. It doesn’t help that the cast is just plain odd. This is an American melodrama, so why on earth are the equally and badly miscast Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch in it? The former acts too passively, and the latter mopes about like a basset hound.

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