'August: Osage County' movie's early reviews: a mixed bag at TIFF

Before its world premiere Monday night at the Toronto Film Festival, the all-star adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer- and Tony-winning drama “August: Osage County” was considered one of the leading Oscar contenders.

With critics in Toronto weighing in quickly, the reaction is decidedly mixed for the drama and its all-star lineup, which features Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Much of the praise was aimed at Streep's turn as a dying, drug-addicted matriarch. And the audience on hand in Toronto liked the movie.

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Deadline Hollywood’s Pete Hammond reported that the “raucous, prolonged standing O for ‘August: Osage County’ was definitely the most enthusiastic I have encountered at this year’s fest,” adding that it “played like gangbusters with much audible reaction throughout.”

Directed by John Wells and adapted by Letts,  “August: Osage County” is set to be released Christmas Day by the Weinstein Co.

“I don’t think I’d call ‘August: Osage County’ a bad film, but I’m damn sure I wouldn’t call it a great one,” said Drew McWeeny of hitflix.com.

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The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg wrote that “the dialogue-heavy dramedy ... unfolds largely like a filmed play.  What are we supposed to come away from this experience thinking and feeling? I’m sure not sure that’s going to prove enough for most awards voters, particularly  in such a competitive year.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips wrote, "The film’s not a disaster, or a total dullard, in the way of too many recent filmed plays.... But 'August: Osage County' comes to life, to cinematic and dramatic life, only in fits and starts. And some of the questionable casting choices extend straight to the choice of director."

Catherine Shoard of the Guardian also questioned Wells, of TV's “E.R.” fame, as the director. “Letts is one of the most formidable talents around today, but in handling his screenplay with such kid gloves, Wells puts a passenger in the driver’s seat. The results are far from a car crash, but they do smack of the rubberneck, in which grande dames get down and dirty and we gawp politely from the stalls.”

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But, Film School Rejects’ Kate Erbland found the film to be “the pinnacle of family dramas. So take that, ‘Ordinary People.’ "

And David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter noted that, “though the film doesn’t shed its inherent theatricality.... But it’s nonetheless an entertaining adaptation, delivering flavorful rewards in some sharp supporting turns that flank the central mother-daughter adversaries.”

The Wrap’s Steve Pond said he believes Streep is a best actress Oscar contender: “With the unstoppable Streep in charge, it’s difficult for a viewer not to go along for the ride even if they’re a little uneasy [as I was] about the fact that the broad comedy sometimes swamps everything in its wake.”

Though McWeeny wasn’t bowled over by the film, he praised Streep and Roberts.  “Streep is often both touching and terrible as Violet’s drug-induced fog rolls in, leaving her fuzzy and disoriented, then rolls out again, allowing her to perform ego surgery on each of her kids, with remarkable accuracy. Roberts rarely chooses to play characters who are this openly angry and hard to like, and I have to say … she gives it everything she's got.”


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