Played out

Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play a bad fit for big screen

Cinemark 14 and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated R.

Rated 3.0

As a play, August: Osage County won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Now it’s out in a film version featuring Meryl Streep and a big-name supporting cast, and it seems to have lost what I’m assuming was the combination of luster and grit that made it so impressive onstage.

The author of the play, Tracy Letts, has done the screenplay adaptation as well, but the onscreen results, which don’t work very well in movie terms, seem half-baked at best and clumsy at worst.

Streep dominates the story in the role of Violet Weston, a foul-mouthed, drug-addicted, cancer-plagued Oklahoma matriarch whose weary, alcoholic, literary husband (Sam Shepard) has suddenly disappeared. Violet dominates her daughters and the other relatives who gather in the aftermath of that disappearance, and all sorts of family secrets, semisubmerged resentments and half-hidden scandals are dragged out to center stage.

Director John Wells (a veteran producer who rarely directs) hasn’t really found a coherent form of overall presentation here, and the performances as well as the script suffer as a result. The low-key performances—Chris Cooper as Violet’s brother-in-law, Julianne Nicholson as the youngest of her daughters, Misty Upham as an in-house caregiver, Shepard—come as welcome relief in a production too much given to off-the-wall outbursts and unfocused hysteria.

As the other daughters, Julia Roberts and Juliette Lewis are little more than haggard caricatures, and Margo Martindale, as Violet’s younger sister, seems as though she’s still trying to get who it is she’s playing. Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Dermot Mulroney are present, but …