BIG LITTLE LIES

Visceral, queasy, intriguing, sexy, painfully realistic. And with a whopping 16 Emmy nominations including all the relevant performers, David E. Kelley’s limited series is O.J.’s O.J. in many’s eyes.

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Jane, Madeline and Celeste get to know each other at Tom’s Monterey café

 

‘Big Little Lies’ is human nature at its rawest, an emotional punch in the gut if you will. The kind of show set amongst people who own pool houses built on cliff edges, as Vulture artfully put it. It shines a flashlight into the lives of three women whose children attend the same public school in Monterey, California. With their own troubled pasts apparently behind them, Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) and Jane Chapman (Sheilene Woodley) each embody multiple dark corners: control freakness, sexual abuse and PTDS. Co-starring are a brilliant Laura Dern as the bitchy CEO Renata Klein, Alexander Skarsgård as Wright’s violent husband and Adam Scott  as Mackenzie’s mild-ish man.

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The heart-wrenching series finale, where all the pieces connect

Nicole Kidman gives a career-defining performance as the top lawyer, delving deep into Celeste’s layers to show the sheer turmoil of an abused spouse dominated by self-delusion. Such were the lengths she went to that Kidman, who would leave the set with actual bruises, described the experience as insidious and admitted: “It disturbed my psyche. It was manifesting deep in my body, not knowing the difference between what was real and not real. My brain tells me ‘I’m an actor.’ My body tells me this is the same: A equals B. I had to express it and cry and go home […] Physically and mentally, it took a toll. Art costs you things.” But will win you an Emmy in 12 days.

Witherspoon and Woodley, whose roles were significantly more banal, are great as the control freak gal pal and the shy outsider who have to deal with past personal demons. Alexander Skarsgård’s Perry feels scarily real, with insecurity and aggressivity at his sleeve. Laura Dern as the bitchy CEO you secretly love and Zoë Kravitz as Madeline’s ex-husband’s new wife are a casting triumph. And, maybe, the best breakout role goes to Robin Weigert as the couple’s therapist. Her sheer understanding, concern and pity shine through a perfectly-calibrated performance that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

The writing is superb, adapting such entangled issues with spectacular intelligence and subtlety that gives us lines ringing new and true at the same time. “Worse! I’m the fucking CEO, which deems me a bitch,” “They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend it like a little pet” or “It was interesting how you could say things when you were walking that you might not otherwise have said with the pressure of eye contact across a table.” But even better that the script, Vallée’s direction is sublime, letting dialogue drop while having the women reach frightening conclusions without speaking and inviting the audience to imagine rather than explaining.

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The three women with kids Chloe, Ziggy, Max and Josh

Vallée, though, was not a casual choice. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman teamed up to partner the rights to Liane Moriarty’s original novel, with the Australian actress personally approaching her at a coffee shop in Sydney to promise it’d get made. Next, according to Indiewire, Witherspoon’s then-partner Bruna Papandrea –– who discovered the book –– developed the series with veteran writer David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal”) and HBO. And it was then when Witherspoon got the Québecoise director on board, who had worked with her in her last Oscar nominated role, Wild (2014). No artificial light, digital camera in hand and long takes being his signature style, the Monterey cinematography generously accommodated to let the ladies grab the adjective smashing.

Technically, it’s a show to savor and analyze. Compare it to your life and thank the Gods yours looks painfully boring in comparison. Full of nuance, mystery and details. But it’s the human element lying behind it, the kinship based on gender that ends up forming teams that is delightful. Not rushed, obvious or demanded and no-freaking-agenda. Just differences that fade to show the almost animalistic power females can attain when sticking together. However, even more fabulous (which is saying a lot) than the message, the plot. The separate stories that end up needing the other to create a common, gasps-for-air finale, and which HBO should value enough not to fall prey to a sequel. Next and past Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus confessed to being “glued to the TV” on the finale, with Ellen, Octavia Spencer and Mindy Kaling all describing it as “wonderful.”

In short, I can’t recommend a binge-watch highly enough. It’s a series for smart, classy people to dive right into. Appreciate the acting. Oscar winners and nominees galore. The master class in writing and direction. And marvel at how complicated we are as individuals. How beauty, strength, pain, insecurity and fear can all be squeezed by artists offscreen and combined for the best on. Don’t miss ‘Big Little Lies.’ Nicole Kidman seamlessly creates and destroys layers people in front of our noses. Duh.

Genre: Dark dramedy.

Original release: February 19 – April 2, 2017.

Country: United States.

Awards: 16 Emmy nominations.

Grade: A+

All images are taken from Google.

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