Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts Our Town, Arts Our Town Downtown, Arts West Side Spirit.

August: Osage County bashes red states and Chekhov

Roberts and Streep in August: Osage County

Roberts and Streep in August: Osage County

Wells’ pretense is the most laughable thing about this unfunny movie which the Weinstein Company is trying to sell as an edgy comedy. Letts’ superficial drama toys with death, suicide, incest, greed, jealousy no differently than a sitcom but heavy-handedly. (This damn thing even begins with a T.S. Eliot quote, the same one Morrissey wittily turned into a threnody in The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead.”)

At first I enjoyed watching the actors say theatrical dialog (Streep’s voice has never been deeper, harsher, sharper but she’s still over-acting up a storm and Julia Roberts’s anger hold interest then stays the same). But Letts’ theatrical conceit–a profane version of Chekhov no better than corn pone Beth Henley–becomes offensively shallow. “This madhouse is my home” Barbara snaps then complains “I can’t perpetuate this myth of family.”

Letts and Wells must think this cynicism is new. It not even up-to-date. Todd Solondz’s ingenious examinations of Jewish American self-reproach (Storytelling, Palindromes, Life During Wartime, Dark Horse) go into ethnicity and then deeper. Letts is stuck at the sophomoric level of his semi-educated characters who speak of “Gordian knots” and a teenage druggie-savant describing life as “A random selection of cells” but lacking Solondz’s understanding that such nihilism is redundant and risible; Letts intends pathos.

And then there’s crazily sentimental music–indie mush, sub-Philip Glass piano arpeggios–and even an Indian-ex-machina played by Missy Upham whose here just to contrast the loopy racist white folk. At least when William Friedkin directed Letts’ Bug and Killer Joe he kept things moving; this film is weighed down by its theatrical dialogue–the only thing going for it.

Letts and Wells congratulate their own crabbiness by alluding to “the spiritual affliction of the blues.” August: Osage County is titled ridiculously as if documenting some phase of sociological history (another Red State denigration) but this story of self-devouring Okies has nothing in common with the soulful laments of the blues–or even authentic Country & Western songs. Letts’ b.s. would make Merle Haggard vomit without drinking.

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