SPOILER ALERT! Skip the following story if you don’t want to read about how the film of August: Osage County may or may not end.
One of the most prestigious movies of the fall season is August: Osage County, which has been adapted for the screen by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts. The cast in this tale of the ultimate dysfunctional family is chock-full of theater vets: Meryl Streep as matriarch Violet Weston, Sam Shepard as her husband Beverly Weston, Julia Roberts as feisty daughter Barbara Weston Fordham, Margo Martindale as Violet’s sister Mattie Fae Aiken, Julianne Nicholson as Barbara’s sister Ivy Weston and Abigail Breslin as Barbara’s daughter Jean Fordham. Hopes are high among the kingmakers at the Weinstein Co. for multiple Oscar nominations.
But, according to the Los Angeles Times, there’s a disagreement brewing over how director John Wells’ film version of August should end. On Broadway, after a climactic mother-daughter confrontation, Barbara exits, leaving her mother on stage to be comforted by Native American maid Johnna. This bleak ending was unloved by preview audiences, so a version of the movie shown this week at the Toronto Film Festival ends with Barbara driving away from the Westons' Oklahoma farmhouse.
Explaining that screening audiences “were terrified about what happened to Barbara,” Wells told the Times, “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.’”
Fans of the play are questioning this change of focus, and Letts and Wells seem to share their ambivalence. “It’s something we’re still talking about,” said Wells. “We don’t open for three months, and it’s possible you’ll see something different.” August: Osage County is due for release on Christmas Day.
In addition to discussion of the ending, there has been controversy over how to position the August actresses in next year's Oscar race. On September 9, the Goldderby awards news site wrote that Weinstein Co. will tout Streep for Best Actress and drop Roberts to Best Supporting Actress alongside Martindale, reversing earlier reports. Broadway fans will recall that Deanna Dunagan (Violet) and Amy Morton (Barbara) went head to head for the 2008 Best Actress Tony, with Dunagan taking the award. Wicked vet Rondi Reed won a Featured Actress Tony as Mattie Fae.