‘August: Osage County’ poster offers clues about awards positioning; premieres at 2013 Chicago International Film Festival


The one-sheet for John Wells’ star-studded film makes the case that the Christmas release offers something for everyone and is a comedy contender at the Globes.

August: Osage County Poster - P 2013

The Weinstein Co. has released the theatrical poster forAugust: Osage CountyJohn Wells‘ adaptation of Tracy Letts‘ Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play, which premiered at September’s Toronto International Film Festival and will be released nationwide on Christmas Day. Regardless of what one thinks about the film, which elicited a variety of reactions in Toronto, one has to acknowledge that its poster is visually cool and strategically smart.

The job of a movie poster is primarily to excite people enough to get butts in seats once the film opens, and I suspect that August‘s will accomplish that goal. By showcasing a large chunk of its impressive cast — namelyMeryl StreepJulia RobertsJulianne NicholsonEwan McGregorMargo MartindaleJuliette LewisDermot Mulroney,Chris Cooper and Abigail Breslin — the poster ensures that most moviegoers will be able to spot at least one person they like and will pay to see on the big screen. There’s something for everyone — the Meryl loyalists, the Julia fan base, etc. Other star-studded films have taken a similar approach, but rarely in such an organic way — instead of using headshots (like Valentine’s Day), August‘s poster features an image derived from an actual scene in the film, which is much more compelling

A secondary job of a movie poster is, or can be, to frame a film in the minds of awards voters — in other words, to create certain expectations for it. This is extremely important because most voters make time to watch only a handful of contenders each awards season, and in order to get their votes a distributor must convince them to watch a film in the first place. Trailers, Q&As and parties certainly help, but so too do movie posters’ taglines — with which TWC’s marketing folks and its longtime awards strategist Lisa Taback have a strong track record. One example: “Find your voice” for The King’s Speech, which hinted that the film offered an inspirational journey. The August poster’s tagline is cute (“Misery loves family”), and the image clearly suggests a raucous sort of dramedy (a woman attacking an older woman while others look on in shock). I’m told that August will be competing in the musical or comedy categories at the Golden Globes, as opposed to the drama races, and, while it could have been placed in either, this image reinforces the case for the former, in which it will have an easier time competing.

“We knew our poster had to feature the incredible ensemble cast but wanted to avoid anything that felt contrived,” Stephen Bruno, TWC’s president of marketing, told The Hollywood Reporter. “This image has a wonderful duality in that it entices the audience going in and serves as an iconic reminder of an extraordinary film on the way out.”

Whether or not August: Osage County will snag any major Oscar or Globe noms — aside from a lead actress one for Streep, which seems like a no-brainer — remains to be seen. But it seems to me that this poster is sure to get people talking about it, thereby teeing it up for awards voters as effectively as any could.

August:  Osage County (USA) – If there was something I was dreading to see at this year’s film fest more than toothless Kazakhstan farmers staring at barley fields shot in ten-minute single takes, it’s seeing the film version of what I consider to be one of the greatest American plays ever written.  If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning, you would know that I’ve devoted blog page after blog page to August: Osage County’s original Steppenwolf production that eventually went to Broadway, London, and Sydney.  Seeing its 2007 world premiere here in Chicago was one of my theatergoing life’s most indelible experiences, and solidified my ongoing deep commitment to Steppenwolf.  Hollywood has a pretty good track record in trashing stage adaptations (uhmn, Nine, anyone?), so I really wondered whether August: Osage County would lose most of its muscle and all of its sharp teeth, not to mention its painful insights on inter-generational differences and family dysfunction in its transfer to the screen.  I will most likely write more about the film when it is released in Chicago in December, but suffice it to say for now that August: Osage County as directed by John Wells and adapted by Tracy Letts from his own play is an honorable film that has the spirit and, in most places, the punch of the great stage production. I think the key is that Letts wrote the screenplay; he has slimmed down the running time but impressively kept the grand ideas, the enthralling plot complications, the gallows humor, and the criminally juicy dialogue of the play.  Although Wells does an unshowy directing job, he gives the film room to breathe by incorporating scenes set in the vast Oklahoma plains, an important metaphor in the play, beautifully (if a bit too artsy-ly) shot by cinematographer Adriano Goldman.

And then there’s the acting! Having seen the original Steppenwolf performances, including the now-legendary ones of Tony winner Deanna Dunagan as the matriarch Violet and Amy Morton as the eldest daughter Barbara, I doubted that anyone in the film, even the great Meryl Streep, can top them.  Well, Streep totally takes the role of vitriol-spewing and pain-causing Violet, rips it to shreds, and reconstructs it in her own special, enthralling way. Stumbling around wearing a fright wig with blood-shot eyes mostly covered up by Bob Dylan sunglasses, she is an electrifying Gorgon hiding a lot of pain underneath the complicated monstrosity.  Roberts is surprisingly her match imbuing Barbara with an underlying decency and grace together with all that hard-edge cattiness and brittle insecurities – you know that she’ll successfully conquer her demons and not become Violet redux, a point that was more ambiguously treated in Morton’s stage performance.  The entire cast is terrific (even the downplaying Ewan MacGregor who seems more comfortable blending into the scenery than chewing it unlike the rest of the actors), but imho, Julianne Nicholson as ignored middle-daughter Ivy and Margo Martindale as Aunt Mattie Fae give performances that stand apart from the stage ones. Nicholson is more hopeful than wistful and you completely understand why she stayed with her parents while the other daughters left.  Martindale gives a less shrewish take on Fannie Mae (a role that won Rondi Reed a Tony), but gives her so many layers of regrets at choices made that when she says to Roberts during one of the big reveal scenes near the end that “I was beautiful once, I wasn’t always your old fat-assed Aunt Fannie Mae”, you see a heartbreaking lifetime of missed opportunities on her face.

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