We all knew the end was nigh, but the end of this series still brought me sadness- this show has been a dramatic and intense journey, and I know it had a finite life, but it still makes me melancholy. The ending was everything I expected.
Just to start at the beginning, Celeste lying on the ground as Perry beats her, her in her underwear and him fully clothed, is a powerful image. Her going to her therapist shows that in the beginning of this episode, Celeste knows that she is going to leave her husband. Her finding out that her son is the bully that has been turning the school upside down is just another slap in the face, but it makes the most sense Max observed abuse in his home, by his male role model. Jane and Ziggy being vindicated is just a side effect, and Renata’s redemption is easy to swallow she apologizes to Jane and accepts the truth with grace.
Jane gets closure in this episode, she discovers the identity of her rapist, and defends Celeste from him before he is pushed to his death by Bonnie. All of the women trying to protect Celeste is also important we see these different women, all moms but fundamentally so different, banding together to guard one of their number from a force of evil because Perry is evil in the end. He isn’t a good father, or husband, or a provider, he is, unequivocally, a monster. And he gets the end he deserves.
The singing was one of my favorite bits, because (aside from the great voices- wow!) it does remind us that the posturing doesn’t end with the women on this show- the guys are just as much drama. In fact, I would argue that the physical threat the husbands present to each other is more worrying than the social threats the women actually carry out. The aggression the husbands, specifically Ed, Nathan, and Gordon, display toward the women and each other, is alarming. Leaving out entirely the central conflict between Perry and Celeste, Gordon threatens Jane and Madeline, Ed and Nathan threaten each other on multiple occasions. Ed and Nathan are openly hostile, which is understandable, they are both insecure. Ed feels insecure in his relationship with Madeline, and Nathan feels inadequate as a father to his oldest daughter. It makes sense that they display animosity to each other, but the violent aspect of their quarreling is disquieting.
Overall, Big Little Lies has been a triumph. The leading ladies are all established actresses, but I think the kids and Kathryn Newton (Abigale) just made a great resumé builder, and can definitely write their own tickets for the next few years. Alexander Skarsgård was incredible, although I don’t know that he will ever be able to play a sympathetic role again. I see some awards in the future, and at least one of them better be for the music, because oh my god was it amazing.
Side note: I just realized that Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley last worked together playing mother and daughter in The Fault in Our Stars in 2014. Woodley, at 25, is playing a very challenging role at a young age. I’d assume, as with Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, that Woodley is playing Jane as slightly older than she is in reality. Assuming Jane was 21 when she was raped by Perry, as she met him in a bar, she’d be twenty-seven in the show, which is only two years older than Woodley. I’m going to let myself believe this, since the alternative is that Jane was raped at nineteen and became a mother at twenty, which feels somehow worse. The rest of the actresses in the show play slightly older mothers, all but Kravitz are over forty, and having Woodley, who has played primarily teen roles, work alongside them only emphasizes her youth and vulnerability. That is to say, it works.
Things keep chugging along in Monterey, where our three favorite moms (and Laura Dern) are confronting their problems in spectacular fashion. Episode six does not disappoint, bringing us some more revelations and an awkward dinner party that ends in vomit. Let’s dive in!
Maddie and Ed finally are addressing their marital problems, which mostly are within the context of their lack of passion, or Maddie’s lack of passion, to be specific. Ed does the good-guy thing, which makes me like him more. The dudes on this show (at least the ones who aren’t adorable six year-olds) are pretty lousy, but out of the lot Ed is the decent one. He cares about the needs of his partner, and is devoted to her. Ed doesn’t confront issues well, but that’s a two way street: Maddie confronts the problems of everyone but herself. I think it’s pretty clear that they’re going to stay together, and Maddie isn’t going to tell him about her affair. The conversation between Maddie and her daughter is metaphorically resonant, because it takes place outside, not in her room at her dad’s. I think it’s important that Maddie tells someone. In telling Abigale about something she’s not proud of, Maddie makes herself vulnerable. Watching, we as the audience see that, despite all of her prickliness, Maddie is all soft spots. The relationship between Maddie, her ex, and their respective spouses has only soured with their reconciliation dinner, but the drama of the final episode will hopefully make them forget their squabbling. Abigale’s behavior is a misguided teen’s cry for attention, and it works. I think that by the conclusion of episode seven, Abigale will be moved back in with her mother.
Shailene does herself proud in this episode. The sex talk with Ziggy is a great moment of parenting, where Jane was clearly caught off guard but explained everything in a way Ziggy could understand. Jane’s tension with Maddie this episode was a bit rough, but it served its purpose. Being honest with Maddie is a big part of Jane’s journey, she’s learning to be honest with herself and her friends. Saxon turning out not to be Ziggy’s father and Jane’s rapist tightens things a bit- we’re going to learn his identity, the identity of the murderer, and the murdered, in one episode. That’s gonna be one packed hour. I thought her trying to make things good with Renata made sense, but Renata is still just a blindingly unsympathetic character.
She’s worried about her kid, but she has no concern for anyone else. True, Jane does attack her, but Renata has been provoking Jane and socially humiliating her son. Jane is the one we feel for, because she’s by herself, she’s doing her best, and she apologizes when she’s wrong. Renata also says she’s sorry, albeit gracelessly.
Of course, this is really another Celeste episode. Nicole Kidman got the meatiest part on this show, despite the intensity and complexity of the other characters. The scenes with the therapist continue to be pitch-perfect, and you can slowly see Celeste understanding the true nature of her marriage. When she looks around that new apartment, you can see her placing twin beds for her twin sons, boxes of Legos and toy guns and dinosaurs. Celeste only truly accepts that her marriage is a hostage situation when Perry threatens her life, and that’s when she knows she has to do what her therapist is telling her.
The music in this episode is maybe even better than it’s been- the production on this show is really fantastic, some of HBO’s best. I’m sad that it’ll be over next episode, but I anticipate a very satisfying finale.
So far, there are four episodes of Big Little Lies that have aired, to wide acclaim. The show has everything that the viewing public like, dramatic parents, funny kids and dysfunctional marriages. Couple that with the sheer star power of the cast, and it was sure to be a hit. BLL has far more than just these things going for it, the editing is fantastic, the kids are great, and the music is perfect. However, the real standout of the show are the female characters, who take center stage. They are all complicated, complex and flawed, and they feel real.
Reese Witherspoon shines as Madeline Mackenzie, a stay-at-home mom with a teenager from her first ill-fated marriage, and a first-grader with an ear for music. Her part time gig at the local community theatre gives her an artistic outlet outside being sarcastic with her friends. She’s strong, and opinionated, and funny. She is intrinsically flawed, like any real person. Madeline is more than a little self centered, brash, and short-sighted, but her good heart overcomes most of these tendencies. Her history is less than spotless, her failed marriage has left her a bit bitter and more than a little sore at her ex-husband.
Said ex is married to Bonnie now, played perfectly by Zoe Kravitz, and has a daughter in the same class as Madeline’s younger daughter. The two little girls seem to understand the situation pretty well, and get along much better than their parents do. Madeline resents that her ex, Nathan, is making more of an effort with Bonnie than she perceived he did with her during their marriage. Bonnie is just the kind of second wife you don’t want for your ex, she’s young, fit, a model citizen and just as sweet as sugar.
Celeste Wright is played by the incomparable Nicole Kidman, who is apparently ageless. Celeste is a full-time mom who was once a shark lawyer, now devoting her days to her twin boys. Her husband Perry is portrayed by the always delightful Alexander Skarsgård, who has perfected the quiet scary voice, and is abusive. He executes the movements of an abusive personality in imperceptible little ways, from his hunched shoulders to the slight threat in his voice. Kidman’s movements shadow his almost exactly, retreating as he approaches. She tries to head off arguments at the pass, but she knows the cycle. When she talks to Madeline, her best friend, about it, she eliminates the violence from her narrative. When she goes to therapy with Perry, she lets him set the tone, lets him decide how honest they’re going to be. Even when they have sex, the signs of his abuse are clear on her body, as evidenced by his finger prints in bruises on her arm. It will be interesting to see how Celeste goes about getting her power back.
Shailene Woodley appears as young mom Jane Chapman, rape victim and mother to Ziggy, a part she carries pretty well despite her relative youth. Jane is a recent transplant to the area, but it’s still a bit unclear as to why she moved away from her parents and to an unfamiliar area. She repeats a few times too often that it’s to help Ziggy, but it’s anyone’s guess. A bigger mystery would be the identity of Jane’s rapist, and the father of her son, and how it ties into the murder mystery unfolding episode by episode.
The larger arc is the mystery murder: the mystery being both the victim and the murderer, or murderers. It seems likely that the murderer or the murdered is probably Celeste or Perry. The largest fault of the series is the slightness of the police investigation scenes. The editing is just fine, but the detectives and interrogators are not fleshed out. Hopefully, we’ll see more over the course of the mini-series. Overall, a great beginning.
While I am certainly late to the cinematic party in terms of writing about The Fault in Our Stars movie adaptation, released to the general public more than a month ago, I HAVE A GOOD REASON.
I have been a nerdfighter since 2010, and I wanted to see the film with my oldest friend, the one who introduced me to the world of Nerdfightaria, the books of John Green, and Brotherhood 2.0. So, yesterday, Tuesday, July 15th, she and I went to go see the movie. I’m not going to sugar coat it, I had low expectations of the film initially. I love the book immensely. I own two copies of the book, one of which is a signed from the first printing, a button, and two tFiOS themed tee shirts. I have read the book at least five times, and I believe it to be frankly genius. I have not been impressed with many recent adaptations of books I’ve loved, and I was underwhelmed by the trailer, so I tried not to get too excited, though I did bring a plastic bag of tissues just in case.
Frankly, I was favorably impressed. The adaption was extremely faithful, taking whole passages from the novel without sounding like they were shoehorned in. Like the novel, it has a really poignant tonal quality, a sad, sardonic kind of humor. Book purists will be very pleased, most of the exchanges between Gus and Hazel are straight from the book, as are all of Van Houten’s and Isaac’s lines. The film is well-made, in some instances movies that heavily quote the books they are based on come across poorly, but tFiOS is an utter triumph.
The cast is a sweeping success, Laura Dern as Frannie Lancaster (Hazel’s mother) is a standout. In such a small cast, there are several big winners. Aside from Dern’s flawless performance, Mike Birbiligia (Patrick, support group leader) is delightful, Nat Wolff is perfect in all senses of the word, and Willem Dafoe is phenomenal. While underutilized in such a tight movie, Birbiglia’s scenes manage to convey a lot of importance for the cancer culture Green wrote about at length in the book. Willem Dafoe does not play the reclusive Peter Van Houtan, his is Van Houtan. Every mannerism, line and facial expression seems to spring straight from the book, he’s simply brilliant. Nat Wolff, recently confirmed to also be starring in an adaption of Green’s novel Paper Towns, is a breath of fresh air. The rapport between his character, Isaac, and Augustus is perfect, and, like Van Houten, most of his lines are also from the book. The scene depicting The Night of the Broken Trophies is a shining moment for Wolff. He is also, in this writer’s opinion, pretty darn cute. Honestly, in moments he was far more appealing than Augustus.
The performances of the two lead actors are overshadowed by the brilliance of the rest of the cast, but Augustus’s eyebrows deserve a film of their own. At times Gus does gets a bit irritating, his vanity and pretentiousness comes across a little more grating on film than on the page. Shailene Woodley looks right for Hazel, she has this girl next door look about her, in the way she talks and moves. Both Elgort and Woodley are aesthetically pleasing and have a great presence onscreen, and their love is magical. Their ability to transition from playing siblings (in another book to movie adaption, Divergent) to lovers is impressive.
As is to be expected, some things that were important in the book that were left out of the movie, including the humanization of Gus’ family. We barely see his mother and father, and his sisters and nephews are left out entirely. Though the movie does an impressive job showing us their story, it fails to grasp some of the complexities of the book. Green has spoken several times about how the book chronicles the journey from strength to weakness, and we do see Gus’ strength. We see Hazel struggle to keep up, but there is none of the book’s foreshadowing of his recurrence, and eight days (or infinity) before Gus dies, he looks much the same as before, though in a wheelchair. There is one really great scene, when he calls Hazel from the gas station, when Elgort really shows us Gus’ frustration, his hatred for his sickness. But we don’t see him look too sickly, and though Hazel promises not to sugar coat their love story, some parts are left out entirely. The relationship between Augustus and his dead ex-girlfriend Caroline is left out from the film, a story which really highlighted the realities of the disease.
The Anne Frank house scene, while meaningful, is not quite as touching as in the book, and also a bit weird. I know it’s a movie, but one simply does not clap when strangers, even disabled, beautiful strangers, make out. Even just watching other people kiss is weird. Also, strange French lady in the background, kissing in the Anne Frank house is not “cute.” I was talking to my friend about how that scene made us uncomfortable in the book, mostly because of the seriousness of the location. The Anne Frank house is essentially a Holocaust museum, and kissing at one of those would be considered a bit disrespectful. It just rubbed us the wrong way a bit. But we’re Jewish, and John Green is not, so we would obviously have different perspectives.
This movie further proves that the truth resists simplicity, as the movie is an impressive (and profitable) effort, receiving critical acclaim and raking in more than 237 million dollars, though it does not reach quite the brilliance of the book.
Green, Elgort, Wolff and Woodley did a series of very delightful interviews in anticipation of the film, which I would suggest you watch, purely because they are adorable and funny. There are some links below, as well as a link to the last post I did on John Green.