‘August: Osage County’ – New York premiere – December 12, 2013


AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY tells the dark, hilarious and deeply touching story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose lives have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Midwest house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name made its Broadway debut in December 2007 after premiering at Chicago’s legendary Steppenwolf Theatre earlier that year. It continued with a successful international run and was the winner of five Tony Awards in 2008, including Best Play.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is directed by John Wells (THE COMPANY MEN) and features an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard and Misty Upham.

Donated By: John Wells

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49th Chicago International Film Festival review: ‘August: Osage County’


“There’s not a category of Meryl. There’s Meryl.” — Debra Winger on Meryl Streep #uplate

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AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY– 5 STARS

Movies about dysfunctional families, no matter if they are little independent gems or classic favorites populated by Hollywood stars, are always prime landscapes for both drama and comedy. They are successful because they make us feel better about our own family we have at home. We either step back saying “Finally, there’s someone out there who has it as bad as I do” or “Gosh, I guess my family’s not that bad.” We either laugh AT their shenanigans as wildly different or WITH their shenanigans as kindred spirits and fellow gluttons for punishment. One can argue that every family is dysfunctional to some degree and that it’s just a matter of what your definitions are for dysfunctional, unique, crazy, and, most of all, normal. Besides, “That’s how we do it in this house.” always wins.

Five years ago, after getting its start at the famed Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Tracy Letts’ play August: Osage County, centering on the women of a particular rural Oklahoma dysfunctional family reacting to a moment of loss, went to Broadway and won five Tony Awards including Best Play, three Drama Desk awards, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as one of the most decorated theatrical productions of the past decade. When a play gets that kind of success, Hollywood was bound to take a stab at it at some point for the big screen. After all, movies, with their endless boundaries of space and location shooting, are supposed to be limitless stages. Successful TV show-runner John Wells (ER, The West Wing, Shameless) is the man who took that shot at August: Osage County and he brought a star-studded cast with him. It’s Chicago premiere occurred this week at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival before its wide theatrical release during the Christmas holiday weekend later in December.

Where movies based on plays commonly fail is when the cinematic expansion of scope and setting ends up stripping away the story and performance intimacy that made it special on the smaller stage. The good films based on plays don’t lose that closeness and connection while still giving us something deeper to see. In every way possible, the film adaptation of August: Osage County is one of those successes. It breathes vigorous life into the stage setting by fleshing out a real location filled with dynamic performances. At the same time, we have this year’s Silver Linings Playbook with a new silver screen dysfunctional family to relish in and size up to our own. August: Osage County, with its uncanny balance between uproarious comedy and striking family drama, is a crowd-pleasing gem and one of the finest ensemble movies you may ever see.

Three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the cantankerous truth-telling family matriarch addicted to the haze her multiple prescriptions drugs give her while dealing with mouth cancer. Violet is full of hateful sarcasm that drives her family crazy. The unfortunate and trapped man married to her is Beverly, a former published poet and steady alcoholic, played by Sam Shepard. They share three daughters and are lifelong residents of Pawhuska, the county seat of Osage County in northeastern Oklahoma, a place more known as a Native American center than anything else. The couple just hired a local Native American woman Johnna (Misty Upham of Frozen River) to cook and clean around the house when Bev runs off and goes missing one afternoon.

After his disappearance extends to several days, Violet’s loudmouth sister Mattie Fae (Justified Emmy winner Margo Martindale) and her calm and homely husband Charlie (Oscar winner Chris Cooper) alert nearby family to come and help with the situation. The first on the scene is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson of Kinsey), the middle daughter and the one that never left Oklahoma. Her guilty patience is what keeps her close by despite constantly being belittled by her mother for never settling down with a man. The other two daughters couldn’t wait to leave back in the day and haven’t come back to Pawhuska in years until now.

Barbara, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts, is the oldest daughter. She and her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) reside in Boulder, Colorado and are going through a painful separation that no one knows about while mutually struggling to control and understand their 14-year-old daughter Jean (Little Miss SunshineOscar nominee Abigail Breslin). Barbara absolutely loathes returning home and has constantly been at odds with her mother ever since she left many years ago. She holds little tolerance anymore for her mother’s drug addiction or antics. The youngest daughter completing the Weston family is the flighty Florida ditz Karen, played by professional flighty ditz and Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis. Her cluelessness comes blazing into town with her Ferrari-driving sleezeball fiance Steve (Dermot Mulroney).

When it turns out that Bev took his boat out on the lake and drowned himself, this momentary family summit turns into a difficult funeral gathering that is going to require a few days. The last to make the trip in for the occasion is Charlie and Mattie Fae’s clumsy and dimwitted son “Little” Charles, played by Mr. Everywhere Benedict Cumberbatch. All together for the first time in a long time and not for a very pleasant reason, the sometime hilarious and sometimes awful warts, flaws, secrets, and old arguments of the Weston clan come bubbling back to the surface, perpetuated and punctuated by Violet’s bombastic rule of the roost.

Another hurdle in transferring Broadway success to a film adaptation is casting. So many movies based on plays reach too high with big names that swoop in for the artistic street cred as “the one that landed the big juicy part,” but end up not being suitable to the large task that is a dialogue-driven ensemble or the richly created character they are supposed to inhabit. The producers of August: Osage County, which include George Clooney, aimed to conquer where others have failed. They went out and got the big names, but then squeezed absolutely incredible performances from just about every single one of them.

Meryl Streep continues to show why she’s the greatest living actress in the world. In her usual fashion which we constantly underestimate and disrespect as her “norm,” she adopts and creates such a compelling and electric character with every possible hue and nuance that an actor can provide. She’s the spark that ignites the best of this film’s comedic and dramatic elements. This role is better than all of her last four Best Actress Oscar nominations (The Iron Lady, Julia and Julia, Doubt, and The Devil Wears Prada). It would be a monumental upset if her name isn’t among the final five in 2014 at the 86th Academy Awards.

There is, however, one person standing in her way from a fourth Oscar win who had the unenviable task of going toe-to-toe with the best in the business. Believe it or not (and many won’t until this see the film), Julia Roberts more than holds her own with Meryl Streep. This is a mature and challenging part that involves none of her megawatt smile and America’s sweetheart charm. She sheds that image masterfully and gets as ugly with her words as Meryl does. If Meryl’s Violet is the spark to greatest hits of August: Osage County, Julia’s Barbara is the dry kindling that allows those moments to burn with fiery intensity. This is, without a doubt, the absolute best Julia Roberts has ever been. Erin Brockovich, her Oscar-winning performance, can’t compete with this. She’s going to give Meryl a major run for her money at the Oscars.

The mere presence of these two heavy-hitters raises everyone else’s game within the August: Osage County cast. Everyone gets their chance to have their loud family spat and flip-out moment and all nail their landings. Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper are perfectly paired oil-versus-water sages of differing tones. Key among the bountiful supporting roles are Julianne Nicholson as Ivy and Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles. Both play hopeless romantics who are deeper than their timid exteriors and key to many of the plot twists. Both give substantially solid performances alongside the bigger names. Only Ewan McGregor feels a tad underutilized, especially considering his usual presence and personality. Nevertheless, the end result is an acting fan’s feast from top to bottom.

The makers of August: Osage County succeeded in their goal to encapsulate what made the orginal play such a monster success. Original playwright Tracy Letts adapted his own three-and-a-half hour play into a streamlined two-hour film for director John Wells, in just his second feature directing gig after 2010’s The Company Men. While details and changes were bound to happen, fans of the play should be pleased by the overwhelmingly intact familial tone that has now received a real setting to work with.

Mega producer Harvey Weinstein bought an actual Pawhuska farm house instead of shooting on a L.A. soundstage. The idyllic property and Oklahoma plains become an extra character to join the human ensemble and successfully hold the closeness and intimacy that gets lost in a play’s translation to film. The signature family funeral dinner scene, shot in the house with everyone on scene, is exactly as paced and written for the film as it was for the play. Not a single line of dialogue was changed. On Broadway, that crucial scene ran twenty minutes and it runs the exact same twenty minutes in the film.

That is just one enormous example of this film’s efforts to retain what made August: Osage County a successful and intimate play. August: Osage County brings an outstanding story peppered with howling laughs and poignant family drama that blend tremendously better than expected. The film is fantastically acted to make this popular story very absorbing. This film is tailor-made as a holiday hit-to-be upon its upcoming December holiday weekend release and a sure-fire Oscar contender in many categories come next year. It is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2013 and will be among this website’s “10 Best” of the year.

LESSON #1: THE PECKING ORDER OF WHO LEANS ON WHO IN A DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY— Each of the three Weston daughters approach Violet, Beverly, and coming home in different ways. They were tight growing up, but have evolved and changed since then. Violet is bold enough to admit that any parent that says they don’t have favorites is lying. We see the varying degrees of each daughter’s favor. When support is needed both up and down the family hierarchy, each person involved gravitates to different places to find strength. There’s a constant shift as to who is leaning on who and who is holding other people up.

LESSON #2: WHAT UNEARTHED FAMILY SECRETS SHOULD HAVE STAYED SECRET OVER OTHERS THAT NEEDED TO BE KNOWN— Beverly, the father of the family, had always been the calming factor and filter for Violet’s vitriolic behavior. He kept the family direction positive and dusted conflicts under the rug. With him passed on, the defensive shield is gone and the filter is off. The cross-hairs are out. Old mistakes and hurtful secrets reemerge in multiple directions threatening the already frayed family fabric. Everyone has scissors, but few bring the fixing needle and thread.

LESSON #3: WHEN THE LIMITS OF TELLING THE TRUTH ARE EXCEEDED— Violet sees very few of her overwhelming flaws. She was yelled at and berated as a child and has been at peace with doing the very same with her chance as a parent. Her sister does the same with Little Charles with her endless harping. Both piss and moan about how hard their lives are compared to their offspring. Violet feels that she’s just “truth-telling” and saying what no one else has the gumption to say. She lacks the care of what should or shouldn’t be said for decency’s sake. Everyone, particularly Barbara as the oldest, has their limits of how much “truth-telling” they can swallow before they react, cross the line of parental respect, and fight back with equally hateful words. There’s love in the Weston family, but it’s thickly coated in disdain and disappointment.

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‘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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AFI Fest – Special screening of August: Osage County Premiere – November 8, 2013


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Los Angeles, CA, October 17, 2013 – The American Film Institute (AFI) today announced additional Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings – comprised of a world premiere, award season contenders and highly anticipated independent and international films of the fall – for AFI FEST 2013 presented by Audi.

There will be a red carpet Gala each night of the festival.  The additional Centerpiece Galas are AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (DIR John Wells) on Friday, November 8; THE LAST EMPEROR 3D (DIR Bernardo Bertolucci) on Sunday, November 10; and the World Premiere of LONE SURVIVOR (DIR Peter Berg) on Tuesday, November 12. All Galas will be presented in the historic TCL Chinese Theatre.

Centerpiece Galas

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY – In this dramatic comedy with an all-star cast, a crisis reunites the women of an Oklahoma family and reignites their dysfunction. DIR John Wells. SCR Tracy Letts. CAST Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard. USA.

Friday, November 8, 2013.

AFI

Weinstein dates ‘The Giver’ starring Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges for August 2014


Way back in 2008, David Yates was set to direct an adaptation of Lois Lowry‘s children’s novel and Newbery Medal winner, “The Giver” after helming Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but he instead decided to tackle the two-part finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, setting the project back several years. Now the film is in the hands of The Weinstein Co. and director Philip Noyce, and the studio has just set an August 15, 2014 release for the feature.

The Giver will star Meryl StreepJeff Bridges and soon-to-be-star Brenton Thwaites whose 2014 not only includes this film, but a lead role in Michael Bay‘s Transformers: Age of Extinction and Maleficent opposite Angelina Jolie.

The story centers on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young boy aged 12, from a seemingly utopian, futuristic world, is singled out to receive special training from The Giver (Bridges), who alone holds the memories of the true joys and pain of life. Streep plays the story’s chief elder, the authoritarian charged with keeping order in the society, order which is disrupted when Jonas is chosen to receive details of the past, before society conformed to a level of “sameness”.

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Juliette Lewis said she was ‘in tears’ just thinking of doing a scene with Meryl Streep for ‘August: Osage County’


LOS ANGELESJuliette Lewis said she was “in tears” just thinking of doing a scene with Meryl Streep for ‘August: Osage County’.

Abigail Breslin is “Little Miss Sunshine” no more; she has grown into a voluptuous young woman.

Juliette, Abigail and many more stars livened up InStyle magazine and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual party last Monday that celebrated the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

In one corner of the posh Windsor Arms courtyard ablaze with red orchids and candles, Juliette told us that a pivotal dinner scene in director John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner (Tracy also wrote the screenplay) took four days to shoot. Juliette, who plays one of the daughters in the Weston family of strong-willed women, remarked that she was very honored to be acting with the formidable Ms Streep.

Imagine a dinner scene presided over by the family matriarch, a sneering, pill-popping Meryl (in a tour  de force performance), and with such actors as Juliette, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson. Julia, as the eldest daughter, holds her own against Meryl. Chris also stands out, especially in a scene where he rebukes his wife, Margo (also fine as Meryl’s sister). Sam Shepard is memorable in a cameo as the patriarch as well as Misty Upham as the new maid.

But the film itself is “stagy” and only occasionally comes to cinematic life. The film’s ending, different from the stage version, also left some critics grumbling.

Inquirer

Dailymail: Pill-popping Meryl Streep gets snarky in new trailer for adaptation of Pulitzer-winning play August: Osage County


It feels like Meryl Streep enters the Oscars race every single time she appears in a film.

And that’s certainly no different this fall, considering her much-applauded turn in upcoming film August: Osage County.

A new trailer for the film, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, features Meryl as Violet Weston, the pill-popping matriach of a dysfunctional family.

Oscar performance? Meryl Streep stars in August: Osage County as a matriach with a sharp tongue and an addiction to prescription pills Oscar-worthy performance? Meryl Streep stars in August: Osage County as a matriach with a sharp tongue and an addiction to prescription pills
Meryl Streep stars in new August: Osage County trailer

Adapted from the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, August: Osage County follows the family as they come together after the death of Beverly Weston (Violet’s husband).

It’s clear that there’s plenty of drama – and awkwardness – to air out, as each person holds their own backstory and quirks.

‘Look at your boobs! The last time I saw you, you looked like a little boy,’ Mattie Aiken (played by Margo Martindale) tells teenager Jean Fordham (Abigail Breslin).

Growing up: Abigail Breslin, now 17 years old, stars as the daughter of Ewan McGregor and Julia Roberts' characters Growing up: Abigail Breslin, now 17 years old, stars as the daughter of Ewan McGregor and Julia Roberts’ characters
What did you say? Ewan McGregor and Abigail Breslin stare in shock at a rude comment from Meryl Streep's character Violet Weston

What did you say? Ewan McGregor and Abigail Breslin stare in shock at a rude comment from Meryl Streep’s character Violet Weston

In another scene, Meryl can be seen rolling her eyes and making faces as Chris Cooper, in the role of Charles Aiken, talks about the ‘joy of family’ as he says grace at the dinner table.

Her befuddling temperament might have something to do with her prescription drug habit: ‘She takes pills – Valium, Vicodin, Xanax,’ her husband notes.

The drama also follows the separation of Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts) from Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor), who is apparently involved with ‘a younger woman.’

‘Well, the odds are against you there, babe,’ Violet drawls to her daughter.

Big claims: Julia Roberts has called her acting experience opposite Ewan and Meryl as the 'best' of her illustrious careerBig claims: Julia Roberts has called her acting experience opposite Ewan and Meryl as the ‘best’ of her illustrious career
Why the tears? Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the upcoming film The Fifth Estate, looks distraught in the clip

Why the tears? Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the upcoming film The Fifth Estate, looks distraught in the clip

August: Osage County has earned kudos for its all-star ensemble cast, which also includes Benedict Cumberbatch (The Fifth Estate), Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney and others.

The film has received many positive reviews, with the most praise going to the performances, particularly Meryl’s.

Julia Roberts has even called her role ‘the best acting experience of my life,’ according to the Associated Press.

The film opens Christmas Day in the U.S.

Settle down: Chris Cooper calms Benedict down as they discuss Beverly Weston's funeral
Settle down: Chris Cooper calms Benedict down as they discuss Beverly Weston’s funeral
Winning ways: Variety's Scott Foundas calls Meryl's performance 'electrifying,' and she's certain to get awards-season attention

Winning ways: Variety’s Scott Foundas calls Meryl’s performance ‘electrifying,’ and she’s certain to get awards-season attention

Leading lady: Meryl Streep attends the Crystal & Lucy Awardsi, held at the Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, in June 2012

Leading lady: Meryl Streep attends the Crystal & Lucy Awardsi, held at the Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, in June 2012

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