Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: August: Osage County vs. Blue Jasmine, two movies about dysfunctional families reuniting after a tragedy.
PremiseBoth August: Osage County and Blue Jasmine focus on dysfunctional families—specifically estranged sisters—forced to come together in the face of a crisis. In August: Osage County, the film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, sisters Barbara (Julia Roberts) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) Weston return to their hometown of Oklahoma when their alcoholic father Beverly (Sam Shepard) commits suicide. Several other family members, as portrayed by various talented actors (Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, and Benedict Cumberbatch, to name just a few), are thrown into the mix to amp up the drama and dark hilarity. Oh, and did we mention Beverly’s widow, Violet (Meryl Streep), is an uncensored lunatic with mouth cancer and a newly developed drug problem? Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine also depicts a family we’re glad we aren’t related to in the throes of a less-than-desirable situation. Pill-popping trophy wife Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) must move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) when she finds herself in an unfavorable financial situation. The plot details are a bit hazy—Allen is known for maintaining a bit of mystery—but it seems as though Jasmine’s husband and meal ticket (Alec Baldwin) turns out to be a sleazy womanizing crook, leaving Jasmine broke, bummed out, and moderately psychotic. Though it is thrilling to see Allen abandoning lighter, European-set romps (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, To Rome With Love, Midnight in Paris) in favor of something more dramatic, the plotlines in his recent films have been a little hit or miss as of late (i.e. Midnight in Paris = hit, To Rome With Love = miss). Plus, one simply does not mess with a Pulitzer. Advantage: August: Osage CountyEnsemble CastThe collected actor salaries for the two ensemble casts featured in these films could likely solve the global economic crisis. Based on mainstream appeal and the number of Academy Award nominations/wins, August: Osage County has the more blatant heavy hitters (Streep, Roberts, Shepard). Blue Jasmine, however, features a cast replete with die-hard cult followings. While everyone loves Meryl Streep, the sort of people who love Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard, and Alec Baldwin harbor deeper obsessions. Blue Jasmine has the added cache of the one and only Louis C.K. in the role of Al, a character we know nothing about. Still, you can’t utter the names Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in the same sentence without getting goose bumps.Advantage: August: Osage CountyPsychotic Leading LadiesThe leading females in both of these films are, to put it bluntly, batshit crazy. Violet Weston (Streep) is a woman with a complete absence of social decorum. “Is there a younger woman?” she asks her daughter’s ex-husband. “You broke your father’s heart when you moved away,” she tells her daughter. She smokes despite having mouth cancer and her wild, pitch-black coif is a telltale physical characteristic of lunacy. Her husband killed himself, which is probably not the most positive sign. All that aside, she maintains a biting wit, and no one that clever can be completely insane. In Blue Jasmine, the title character is entirely out of touch with reality. “Can you please not fight in here, I cannot take it. For some reason my Xanax isn’t kicking in,” she tells her sister and brother-in-law. Every New Yorker knows Xanax plus alcohol is a surefire recipe for erratic behavior, and Jasmine can be found wielding a martini or an entire bottle of vodka for the better part of this trailer. Nothing pushes a spoiled brat over the edge faster than taking away all her money.Advantage: Blue JasmineTragedy StrikesThough the families in these films are dysfunctional to begin with, a large portion of their onscreen drama is because the universe has not been especially kind to them. In August: Osage County, the Westons must come to terms with the fact that the beloved patriarch of their family has gonne—and gone of his own accord—and his wife may soon join him. In Blue Jasmine, Jasmine loses all of her money; and while her husband is not dead, she probably wishes he were. Her sister, Ginger, seems to have dated a handful of unsavory characters, but then again, who hasn’t? Sounds like a walk in the park when compared to death and cancer.Advantage: August: Osage County.DirectorAt first glance, John Wells, a director whose experience lies primarily in television dramas such as ER, The West Wing, and most recently Shameless, may seem in over his head with August: Osage County. You don’t give a television director a cast like this and a script based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, right? Wrong. Wells’ years spent directing primetime dramas ideally equip him to effortlessly direct a film laden with interwoven plotlines and a boatload of main characters. Plus, all of those shows—or most of the shows—are spectacular, and the man has won six Emmys. Unfortunately for Wells, an Emmy is not an Oscar, and Woody Allen, the grand overlord of writing/directing ensemble cast films (at least since Robert Altman died), has won four.Advantage: Blue JasmineThe VerdictThe offbeat insanity of Blue Jasmine is as tantalizing and we’re keen to see Woody Allen veer back towards the dramatic. That said, with its celebrated script and its Oscar winning cast, the expected performances in August: Osage County are enough to tip the scales. We expect that Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are already clearing out some statue-shaped shelf space. Winner: August: Osage County