Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Big Little Lies HBO Mini-series Review

Big Little Lies (2017)
Mini-series - 7 episodes
Buy Big Little Lies on Amazon // Based on the book Big Little Lies
Created by: David E. Kelley
Directed by:  Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring:  Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern
Rated: TV-MA

The apparently perfect lives of first grade mothers are anything but, culminating in them becoming suspects in a homicide investigation.
The homicide investigation is secondary to the entanglements of their personal lives as they unfold.

From the first episode this is a riveting drama. While I thought solving the homicide would be the driving force, it's a minor plot point. The question becomes who did it and who is the victim. Those answers aren't revealed until the final episode, but by the second episode, I didn't care about the murder. I just wanted to see more of these characters. They are well-written and the acting is solid. Reese Witherspoon will get some nominations.
The drama is the facade that is their lives, tension building in each situation. With each passing episode, the number of suspects that could be either the killer or victim increases.
This is an excellent series with deftly developed characters, slick editing, and a finale that reveals all.
Watch it.

Based on the novel of the same name by  Liane Moriarty, this takes a True Detective approach with creator David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal and Boston Legal) writing the entire series for HBO, with all episode directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club and Demolition). Most of the actresses and actors are traditionally film.

That approach works. The first episode cuts back and forth between a police press conference & various witness statements to the story of first grade mothers that become friends. Madelaine (Reese Witherspoon) and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) live posh lives in California. Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) is trying to escape the demons of her past. All three are hiding something.

The politics of middle school are amped up to an insane degree, and it completely works. These mothers belittle and back stab, and it's a lot of fun. The splicing of witness interviews often serves to undercut or heighten what's happening. Celeste and Perry's lovey dovey relationship seemed like a facade and it turns out it is. The public persona and private reality are a stark contrast for nearly everyone. This show builds well rounded, complex characters and that is the draw to this. After two episodes, I was content to just watch their lives unfold. This doesn't rely on the mystery to hook you. The characters are compelling, and the music is excellent.
The show jumps back and forth to the school year and witnesses providing testimony after the murder. Of course the witnesses are minor characters. You won't get any spoilers through that.  We're told in the first episode everything links back to Madelaine, and while it does, it's more all of the characters are linked through her. We don't know whether we can trust the eye witnesses because they've only seen parts of the whole and are quick to provide rumors and stories.

I wondered how long the murder would be drawn out, but that isn't the focus of the show. It's just a backdrop, though battle lines are drawn on the first day when Renata publicly accuses Jane's son of bullying her daughter. Though it isn't proven, that allegation follows Jane like a weight, with one parent starting a petition to expel her son. Renata is painted as a bit of a bully and villain. Many of these parents are extreme helicopter parents. Since this is a rich neighborhood, there is a fair amount of eye roll inducing over indulging of children.

This is life amplified, cranking the volume up to eleven on the little grudges and spats between people.
Episode two reveals more about the characters. We knew Jane moved for a new start, but she may be running from something. We learn her unpleasant history in the third episode, and it's much like anticipated unfortunately.
Madelaine is upset that her ex-husband is around for the children and actually trying to parent, things he never did when they were together. It doesn't help that her ex married a much younger woman, Bonnie (Z Kravitz). Madelaine constant focus on her ex, makes her current husband Ed (Adam Scott) feel like a consolation prize. As passionate as she is about a variety of causes, how does that passion not translate to Ed?
Celeste's husband Perry is manipulative and abusive. Their scene when they go to therapy is something else. You have to imagine the therapist can tell something is going on.
Madelaine is the try-hard parent that jumps into a situation that isn't hers, attempting to ruin Renata's daughters birthday party when Jane's son is slighted. Madelaine is ice cold, but it's because she feels strongly she's meting out justice. Renata tries to un-ring that bell to no avail, telling Madelaine she's "dead in this town." There's lot of foreshadowing, but it's mostly red herrings.
Witherspoon does a great job, though everyone does.
By episode four Perry is a front runner for getting murdered or being the murderer. Who knows?
The question of who is bullying Renata's kid persists. I wondered if the bullies could be Celeste's kids. Have they seen or picked up on the general mood in the house? The show builds a lot of suspense and intrigue as it edges even farther away from the investigation. Madelaine has to confront a situation that could be detrimental to her marriage. Jane considers whether to confront her past, and Celeste is urged by her therapist to leave her husband.
Everything comes to a head at the school fund raiser. It's a party for rich people. The theme is Elvis and Hepburn, with parents dressed as one of the two. With rich parents, there are a lot of over the top costumes.
The final episode teases you, making us think we won't find out exactly what happened, but don't worry. All secrets are revealed by the time the credits roll.

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