‘August: Osage County’ Ending in Flux and Streep Moves Back to Best Actress Category

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august-osage-oscarsI am going to be doing a lot of Oscar predictions updates once I get back home following the Toronto Film Festival, but not before. However, there is some news surrounding one of the the fest’s world premieres that’s worthy of note.

August: Osage County screened to mixed reactions here in Toronto. I, for one, quite liked it and liken it to some of the best work we’ve seen from Mike Nichols over the years. One complaint some had was in regards to the film’s ending, which (and yes, this is spoiler territory) currently ends with Julia Roberts driving off from the Weston house leaving her mother (Meryl Streep) in the house alone, presumably for the rest of her life.

The suggestion is to avoid the entire addition of the Roberts scene and merely end with Violet shocked into solitude, which is how the play ends. I can accept the film either way, but the stage play ending is far more of a gut punch and should director John Wells go back to that ending I hope he shot enough footage to keep the camera on Streep for almost a solid minute before running the credits. I know that’s how Steve McQueen would play it.

According to Steven Zeitchik at the Los Angeles Times, the tacked on Roberts ending comes as a result of test screenings where audiences didn’t like the “Violet all alone” ending. The Weinstein Co. and the film’s producers, which were not named and do include George Clooney and Grant Heslov, want to stick with the current ending, but Wells and screenwriter Tracy Letts prefer the original.

“We tested it over and over again and people rebelled in the theater,” Wells told the Times. “They were terrified about what happened to Barbara.” Apparently audiences felt alienated by the Violet on the stairs ending. Wells added, “They felt like we were hitting them on the head with a hammer. I heard it over and over again — to the point that it was ‘Let’s see what happens if we put Violet on the steps and then cut to Barbara.'”

Wells said the ending as seen in Toronto is not entirely final as the film doesn’t open until December 25 and Wells told the press and industry audience in Toronto only minutes before the film played that they had only finished the current assembly a few days earlier.

What is also interesting about the film’s ending is the fact Roberts’ Barbara is the lead character of August: Osage County. There was some debate earlier as to whether or not Streep would campaign for Best Supporting Actress of Best Actress at this year’s Oscars and it seemed to have been decided Streep would go Supporting and Roberts would compete on her own for lead. The current ending of the film essentially concedes the fact Roberts is lead as it nicely wraps up her character’s arc, establishing Barbara as the story’s central figure with Streep’s Violet supporting that arc. Well, not so fast…

Over at Gold Derby, Tom O’Neil reports Streep will now officially campaign for Best Actress and Roberts will drop to Supporting where she’ll compete opposite fellow August star and stand-out, Margo Martindale. If it helps clarify things, the roles of Violet and Barbara as performed in the stage play were both nominated for Tony Awards, both in the lead category.

O’Neil quotes his source that gave him the news saying, “We have to look at the Best Actress race this way: Who’s strong enough to beat Cate Blanchett? It’s Meryl.” Sorry, not going to happen. While the Weinsteins play politics with their positioning of Streep, recent history makes Blanchett the clear front-runner in a head-to-head. If they want to play that game Streep will need to flip-flop once again or else it will be all about that popular saying, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

I’ll examine all the categories much deeper once I get back home, where we’ll also discuss this news Danny Strong‘s Lee Daniels’ The Butler screenplay is going to be competing for Best Original Screenplay despite the fact all anyone could talk about is how it was based on Wil Haygood’s 2008 Washington Post article “A Butler Well Served by This Election” under the classification of “inspired by”. Kris Tapley at In Contention broke the news and says he called the WGA’s credits department and the guild is classifying the script original. So there you have it.

NOTE: You can read my full review of August: Osage County right here.