When a feature film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ beloved, Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County began to move forward, fans were understandably apprehensive. It’s a brilliant piece of writing and those that cared so deeply about the play didn’t want to see it muddled in the transfer to the screen. Writer/director John Wells—aided by producers George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Harvey Weinstein—set out to assemble an all-star cast that would do the play justice, and he succeeded in putting together a phenomenal ensemble that includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Margot Martindale, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this week and critics appeared to be split right down the middle. I thought it was wildly entertaining and Matt was a fan, but many who had seen the play took issue with the film’s altered ending. Now Wells has confirmed that the ending is still in flux and may very well be changed before release. Hit the jump for more on why the conclusion was reworked in the first place, but beware of spoilers.
One last warning: We are about to get into heavy spoilers for the ending of both the play and the movie, so if you don’t want to know stop reading now.
In a solemn yet fitting conclusion, Letts’ play ends with the pill-popping matriarch Violet abandoned and alone in her house, quietly muttering to herself. The film includes this scene as well as Streep’s Violet attempts to play some music but fails, but then right after this scene we see Roberts’ Barbara, Violet’s eldest daughter, driving away from the house and through Osage County. She stops to look at the landscape as if to say, “Goodbye, Oklahoma. Goodbye, terrible mother.” It’s a fine ending, but it’s unnecessary.
Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Wells revealed that the film originally did end with Violet alone in the house, but that ending received poor test scores:
“We tested it over and over again and people rebelled in the theater. They were terrified about what happened to Barbara. 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.”
The new ending yielded better test scores, but the audience of critics and industry folk at TIFF was not so keen on the new conclusion. Alas, it appears that Wells isn’t too comfortable with the new ending as well, and he confirms that they might change it back before wide release:
“I’m not sure I’m OK with doing it that way,” he said. “I don’t want to say there’s anything wrong with the current ending, because there isn’t. But it’s something we’re still talking about. We don’t open for three months, and it’s possible you’ll see something different.”
The LA Times goes on to note that the August: Osage County executives—namely Harvey Weinstein—are happy with the new Barbara-centric ending, while the producers and Wells prefer using the ending of the play, with Violet on the stairs. It remains to be seen who will win out, but after speaking with people after the TIFF premiere I found that those who had scene the play almost universally disliked this new ending.
Weinstein clearly has high Oscar hopes for this film, and even though critics were split I still think this will be a fairly major contender in the upcoming awards race. Since the film doesn’t look to have the full embrace of the critical community, general audience reception is key to the film’s Oscar campaign. As such, I imagine Weinstein and Wells are going to work very hard to choose an ending that will leave audience satisfied. We’ll find out which one they decide upon when August: Osage County opens in theaters on December 25th.