Film Face-off: 'August: Osage County' Stars Meryl Streep vs. Julia Roberts

Film Face-off: 'August: Osage County' Stars Meryl Streep vs. Julia Roberts

Jan 13, 2014

Meryl Streep is an actor. Julia Roberts is an actor, but you'd probably say she's more of a star. Let's find out what happens when we make them fight. This week's Film Face-off is Streep vs. Roberts. After reading this fight, you can see them emotionally, figuratively and literally duke it out on-screen in John Wells' August: Osage County.

It's written by Tracy Letts who gave us the underseen Killer Joe. Osage County is in Oklahoma and the movie takes place in August. Get it? Good. Let's get on with the fight.


The Supporting Roles

Meryl Streep

Most of us realize Streep was a supporting actor in The Devil Wears Prada, right? It kills me when the Academy Awards get that wrong. Her other memorable supporting roles were in Deer HunterKramer vs. KramerAdaptation.The Hours and She-Devil.

Julia Roberts

Roberts started out supporting with Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias. She's done a little more supporting lately with the Ocean's films, Charlie Wilson's WarCloser, and I'm on the fence as to whether she was the lead or supporting with the slightly amusing Mirror Mirror.

Winner: Meryl Streep. I like Steel Magnolias. I saw it in the theater in sixth grade (with two girls) and secretly cried. There's no shame in that (now). Most of the time when Roberts supports, it's a bit a of mixed bag. She was the worst part of Charlie Wilson's War, and was a willing participant in Valentine's Day. Streep has some heavy hitters in there. Plus, when she does something as odd as She-Devil, you're curious.


The Leading Roles

Meryl Streep

The Iron LadyIt's Complicated, the good half of Julie & JuliaMusic of the HeartThe River WildDefending Your Life and Out of Africa all have Streep as the female lead.

Julia Roberts

Roberts' lead films are the likes of Eat Pray LoveMona Lisa SmileErin Brockovich Runaway BrideNotting HillMy Best Friend's WeddingMary ReillyThe Pelican Brief and Pretty Woman.

Winner: Julia Roberts. Yes, I'm being serious. Films like It's Complicated and Eat Pray Love are equally bad. I'm annoyed that Streep won an Oscar for The Iron Lady. It's not her best work, and I don't think the film will be remembered. She does get points for proving she can do action-adventure with The River Wild, but with many Streep lead performances, it's about the man first. I think of Albert Brooks and Robert Redford before her with those films. With Roberts, she comes first. In the male-dominated world of movies, that is truly saying something. It's kind of a shame that we aren't getting watchable romantic comedies from Roberts anymore. I think there's definitely a place for her still making Notting Hill-type films.


The Box Office

Meryl Streep

Streep's films have made $1.7 billion (domestically) and average $37 million. Her first $100-million film was Kramer vs. Kramer. She has a total of five films that have crossed that mark. Do you know which one was her most successful? It was 2008's Mamma Mia with $144 million.

Julia Roberts

Robert's movies have made $2.6 billion, with an average of $66 million. She was box office gold for a while with 11 films earning more than $100 million. Sure, some of those were Ocean's movies, with Ocean's Eleven being her highest at $183 million. Her second is 1990's Pretty Woman with $178 million.

Winner: Julia Roberts. Streep might be the first to say her choices aren't based on box office potential. That's fine, but it can't be denied that Roberts was, and sometimes still is, American's sweetheart. Heck, her presence made Sleeping with the Enemy more than $100 million. Roberts isn't only about the box office, with Mary Reilly, Michael Collins, Everyone Says I Love You coming back-to-back-to-back with none of them making more than $12 million. It is surprising that as a lead, she hasn't topped Pretty Woman's financial success. Streep's number two earner is The Devil Wears Prada, and four of her five big successes actually came after 2004. I was a little surprised to see The Bridges of Madison County only made $71 million. I thought my mom would have accounted for $30 million all by herself.


The Awards

Meryl Streep

Streep has been nominated for the Academy Awards an insanely amazing 17 times. She's won an Oscar three times. Her first, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), for Supporting. She won for the leading role in 1982 film Sophie's Choice and again for 2011's The Iron Lady.

Julia Roberts

Roberts has been nominated for the Academy Award three times. She's been nominated for supporting actress with Steel Magnolias, and lead for Pretty Woman. She won for 2000's Erin Brockovich.

Winner: Meryl Streep. It's closer than you think. Let me tell you why. Roberts wins 50 percent of the time when she's nominated for Best Actress. Streep wins 14 percent of the time. Let's look beyond the Oscars. Streep has eight Golden Globes from an astonishing 27 nominations. Roberts has three Golden Globe wins from eight nominations. Streep also has two Emmys, versus Roberts' one nomination. Streep is getting the win because she is always in the conversation. If given the choice, isn't that what we would want? Plus, we can't imagine that Streep looks at this like losing, right?


August: Osage County

Meryl Streep

Violet Weston (Streep) is the holding things together as best she can after her husband (Sam Shepard) disappears. She's dealing with mouth cancer, and is a bit of a pill popper.

Julia Roberts

Barbara Weston (Roberts) is one of Violet's daughters who comes back home to try and help during a difficult time. She's with her husband (Ewan McGregor) and daughter (Abigail Breslin).

Winner: Meryl Streep. August is most definitely an ensemble with the above mentioned as well as Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis getting a chance to shine. Benedict Cumberbatch is also in the film, but it's a rare instance of a failed performance. While it is an ensemble it feels like Streep is a prize fighter out to prove she still punches the hardest. The character of Violet is fairly evil, yet the charm of Streep helps balance this out and create comedy out of cringe-worthy moments.

At first glance, I was a little worried we were going to just have sad cancer Streep, like One True Thing. Nope, there is no filter on Violet, especially at the dinner table. Roberts has her moments and I think she's technically a colead in the film (though it looks like they're pushing her for Supporting). The second time I watched it, her performance grew on me. She doesn't get to chew up and spit out as many lines as Streep, but when she has her moments (like the dinner table), she takes full advantage. I love thinking that before filming started, Streep looked at Roberts and said, "You're not beating me," and Roberts took the challenge (though still lost).


OVERALL WINNER: Meryl Streep beats Julia Roberts, 3-2.

I wonder if anyone was getting nervous when Roberts had an early 2-1 lead over Streep. The best actor won, it's that simple. It will be interested to see what happens with the remainder of both of their careers. Streep is 64 and Roberts is 46. They each have plenty of time to garner more nominations, box office dollars, or whatever else they might desire. If you didn't gather from above, August: Osage County is a really good dysfunctional family drama, with some genuine comedic moments. The dinner scene is one of my most memorable moments of 2013. Remind me to repeat this Film Face-off in about 40 years, and we'll see if Streep can remain on top.




Categories: Features, In Theaters
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