Sept. 10--"August: Osage County," the prize-winning play written by Tulsa native Tracy Letts and now adapted into a star-studded motion picture, appears ready to become a player in the upcoming movie awards season.
That's if some of the initial reactions hold true from those who saw the picture at its world premiere on Monday night at the Toronto International Film Festival, which has become a prestigious launching pad for Academy Award hopefuls.
The buzz was largely positive for the film that was mostly shot in a rural Osage County home in the fall of 2012, with other filming taking place in Pawhuska, Barnsdall and Bartlesville.
Receiving most of the praise post-screening were the performances of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts and the biting screenplay from Letts.
"The movie played like gangbusters," said Adam Chitwood, a Tulsa-based associate editor for Collider.com, a national movie website, who was in attendance.
He described this "very funny, very dark look at family and relationships" as being led by Letts' "hilarious and unflinching screenplay," with a brilliant ensemble in which "nearly every single actor delivered a phenomenal performance. ... Streep is a wonder to behold ... and Roberts delivers her strongest performance in years."
Clark Wiens, co-founder of the Circle Cinema Foundation, described "August: Osage County" as a "very good film, driven by the words of Tracy Letts" and added that "I hope we'll be playing it, because I think people are really going to like it."
He said that director John Wells was in attendance and spoke warmly about shooting the picture in Oklahoma. The director added, Wiens said, that some of the antagonism seen on film -- Streep plays the pill-popping matriarch of a deeply dysfunctional family with Roberts as the oldest daughter -- was mirrored in some ways on the set to dramatic effect.
"I have to think that Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts will be nominated for Oscars, and Julia really took command of a role like I don't think we've seen in a long time," Wiens said. "I just really liked the movie, but then I'm from Oklahoma, and I think Tracy Letts is a genius, so I'm biased."
As Twitter reactions to the premiere began to emerge on Monday evening, the raves for Streep -- who was supposed to attend but stayed away due to illness -- were universal.
Roberts was also faring well, with comments like "Streep & Roberts going all-out in mother-daughter catfight," but more comments noted her first red-carpet appearance in two years.
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, who was present for the play's premiere in Chicago years ago -- and which lasted 70 minutes longer than the edited film of 2 hours, 10 minutes -- weighed in briefly, mentioning the issues people who have seen the play may have with the movie.
"The film's not a disaster, or a total dullard, in the way of too many recent filmed plays..." he said. "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."
As Chitwood said, "This is a very performance-driven film. Wells' direction is serviceable but not remarkable (and) it very much feels like a play -- albeit a highly entertaining one."
There were some on Twitter who lamented various aspects of the film -- the score, the direction by Wells (only the second film helmed by the longtime "ER" producer) and the family in-fighting not fitting their tastes -- but the reception was warm for a movie that remains highly anticipated.
As Associated Press film critic Jake Coyle tweeted: "Meryl Streep kills it in 'August: Osage County.'"
Wiens said the line to attend stretched longer than any he'd seen this year in Toronto, and he estimated that as many as 500 hoping to attend were turned away.
As for Oklahoma scenery, Chitwood said images of Osage County landscapes and Pawhuska and Bartlesville can be seen largely in a series of shots during the film's opening credits.
"August: Osage County" opens nationwide in theaters on Christmas Day.
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