(Editor's Note: With the Academy Awards taking place on Sunday night, we asked TLO Senior Film Critic Louis Fowler to review the Oscar nominated "August: Osage County." Not only was the movie filmed in Oklahoma, but it's set here, too.)
There are few things more uncomfortable, for a minority, at least, than being invited to a white person’s house for a family dinner.
Within minutes, what at first appeared as a Cleaver-esque visage of divine Caucasian merriment devolves into a rather loud episode of Cops as passive-aggressive paternal comments about weight gain and failure to finish school give way to children bringing up past emotional crimes against them, all the while you’re sitting there, stuck in the middle, trying to quietly finish off the rest of the pot roast on your plate before grandma asks an innocuously racist question about Mexicans in an attempt to diffuse the situation.
But, such are the pitfalls of dating white chicks, I suppose.
It’s an event that has actually happened to me so many times that I even sat down and wrote the outline to a play based around these episodes entitled It’s Hard to Enjoy This Meatloaf When You’re Accusing Your Pee-Pa of Inappropriate Touching.Imagine my chagrin when I learned that vastly overrated Tulsa playwright Tracy Letts beat me to the punch with the abominable screech-fest that is August: Osage County!
While I’ve never seen the stage play—I’ve got better things to do than watch OCU drama students over-emote in awful Okie accents for three hours—it was impossible not to be caught in the whirlwind buzz of Osage Fever when the motion picture adaptation was released this past December in an effort to get it pumped and primed for Oscar season.
With only garnering the requisite nominations for Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, suffice to say, it failed. And with good reason: it’s one of the worst films to come out of Oklahoma since, well, ever.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, the aforementioned Streep is a pill-popping crone who uses her cancer (boo-hoo) as an excuse to be a total bitch to everyone. Set in the brutal Oklahoma August heat, tempers flare and passions rise as patriarchs die, daughters rebel, first cousins fall in love and everyone pours heaping tidal waves of gravy on everything.
I know what you’re saying: this sounds like a pretty accurate depiction of small-town Oklahoma life. And you’d be right. But that doesn’t mean I want to sit there and watch it for three hours. I mean, I’ve got a quinceañera to get to, for reals.
Even though the cast is made up of people I normally tolerate, actors like Chris Cooper and even Julia Roberts, the star of the show is Streep and she delivers a performance so gaudy that at least three of her Oscars should be retroactively taken from her, with force if possible. Sure, I guess that I should be praising her brave decision to portray the matriarch of the family as a drag queen slash burn victim, but having just witnessed the real thing defecate herself in the frozen foods department at Buy for Less, it hits a little too close to home for me right now.
But, you know, even that would have been watchable if coming out of her mouth wasn’t fluid streams of that overwrought, melodramatic bullshit that is Tracy Letts’ dialogue. Between the pretentiousness of comparing the plains of Oklahoma to “the blues” to an interminable meal sequence where Roberts tells Streep to “Eat your fish, bitch!,” every single line of this thing is so wince-inducing that I expect it to be used at high school drama competitions for years to come.
It’s obvious that Letts has zero respect or love for Oklahoma, depicting the women as cornpone c-words and the men as slack-jawed imbeciles, violently emoting all over the dusty barren Hell that is rural Oklahoma. It’s like he got a little bit of success and is using it to make fun of his roots to impress all of his newfound erudite New York pals.
But, if you’ve read any of the work of his mama, Billie Letts, you’d know that the horseapple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. After all, this is the woman who, in her book Where the Heart Is, features a pregnant white trash teen living in a Sequoyah area Wal-Mart for a good lot of the tome.
Filmed in Bartlesville and Pawhuska, many filmgoers and, even worse, film critics, forced themselves to spew positive quotes about the film, as if some sort of state-issued duty. Over the past year or so, I’ve interviewed, discussed and dissected, with various spokespeople, directors and local activists about the impending loss of the Oklahoma Film Commission’s film rebate program, oftentimes citing how, with it gone, Oscar-bait pics like Osage will avoid filming in the Sooner state and probably choose places like Canada.
Well, after viewing August: Osage County, all I gotta say is good riddance. Send me a postcard from Manitoba.
Invite @LouisFowler to your caucasian family dinner on Twitter.