August: Osage County is a heartwarming comedy about a quirky family of Oscar winners who unite to overcome their differences. Or, rather, that’s the impression you’re likely to get from the trailer, which just hit the Web this morning. As the indie pop of Edward Sharpe fades in toward the end, there’s a swell of smiles and sunshine, and the only thing left is for Abigail Breslin to do her big Rick James-scored dance number to bring the whole dysfunctional family together.
It doesn’t look bad; it’s just a bit disingenuous. If you’ve seen Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, or really any of Tracy Letts’ work, you’ll know that August is not at all Little Miss Sunshine 2 (Still Superfreak-y). Instead, its comedy is pitch black, and its worldview very cynical, closer to the line that the trailer drowns in Sharpe’s jingle jangles: “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.”
All that aside, the trailer does offer plenty of reasons to get excited for the movie adaptation (besides the lower ticket price). First of all, it actually looks like a movie. Adapting a play into something cinematic is a notoriously difficult thing to do, especially when a play takes place mostly within a single location, as August: Osage County does. But what we see here manages to mix up the scenery while still looking natural. On the other hand, much of the play’s tension comes from a sense of claustrophobia—of being trapped with this crazy family—so hopefully that hasn’t been lost either. A director like William Friedkin, who adapted Letts’ Killer Joe and Bug, may have played that differently, but director John Wells, who has been involved in every aspect of Showtime’s Shameless, will bring his own understanding of highly dysfunctional families.
And then, above all, there’s the cast, which includes three Oscar winners (Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep) and three Oscar nominees (Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, and Juliette Lewis), not to mention Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Streep is the one to watch, with the play’s big showcase role as the pill-popping, cancer-fighting matriarch. We’ll see if the cast might add to its pile of Oscars when August opens on Nov. 8.