It's time for the Monday Monologue. How many of you caught Mildred Pierce (2011) last night on HBO? Todd Hayne's adaptation of the novel, previously adapted in the 40s, is a five hour affair. We can't say much as to quality yet as we're only ⅓ through (or thereabouts). Let it suffice to say for now that the new version is much different which we're immediately grateful for; no one needs a replacement of the terrific 1945 Joan Crawford noir.
My two favorite things about the first hours were the supporting players: Mare Winningham was tart perfection as Ida the head waitress at the diner where Mildred finds work and Melissa Leo adding to her noteworthy run as Mildred's know-it-all neighbor Lucy. Both actressses were deliciously in period; you could shove them right into a 30s movie and gobble them up with delight alongside a slice of Pierce pie.
Early in the first hour, Lucy gets a showcase bit where she schools Mildred on the complexities of dating when your marriage has broken up. She tells Mildred, who is looking anything but red hot with floured hands and apron-covered, that men now view her differently.
A red hot mama. 'Grass widow.' From now on honey you're fast.
Mildred can't believe what she's hearing. But she's definitely curious about her friend's guidance. A former friend of her husband's has invited Mildred out to dinner and she has accepted. Lucy immediately disapproves.
All right see, there's mistake number one. First thing, I wouldn't let that klut buy your dinner. No, I would sit him right down and give him one of those Mildred Pierce specials.
Mildred objects but Lucy shuts her down. Also: Kate may want her scene back, but Melissa's like 'unh-unh baby. This one's mine!' The scene moves from Mildred's to Lucy's house but school is still in session.
As an investment baby. Now shut up and let me talk. Why do you suppose he wants to take you out some place? To show respect? To prove his high regard for you? Malarkey! They take us out for one reason and one reason only. To get a drink. Them. And baby, right there is where I come in. Come with me.
Now this stuff, the gin and the scotch, is right off the boat. But it's legit wherever I got it from. And it's A-One. Now the other stuff, the wine, is from right here in California but it's okay booze so lean on it. That's the trick, baby. You handle the wine right and the high priced stuff will last and last.
Now. What are you serving?
Leo is really marvelous in the scene somehow balancing period flair with humorous cadence and warm pathos. The lines could have easily been read with more bitchiness but the best of Leo's detailing is the compelling mix of maternal condescension with genuine friendly concern. Her heart may be heavy for Mildred but Leo gets that Lucy also enjoys the new dependence; Lucy has knowledge to impart and Mildred needs it.
Mildred, who is still resisting her new desperate reality, claims she's not about to 'serve' anything. Here Leo shows us Lucy's deft hand at reading her friend. She pulls back ever so slightly so as not to wound her pride or impugn her sexual virtue. But Lucy is still going to tell it like it is.
Baby. Baby. You go out with him and he buys you dinner and you get a little tight and you come home and something happens. Of course something will happen ...eventually.
And when it happens it's sin. It's sin because you're a grass widow and fast. And he's all paid up because he bought you dinner. That makes it square. But if you bought his dinner and cooked it for him the way you do and just happened to look cute in that little apron and something just happened to happen. Well, that's just nature -- Old Mother Nature, baby, and we all know she's no bum. And Wally's not paid up. Not even close.
Anyway. Last I heard you were up against it. Play your cards right and within a month he'll be taking you shopping for a divorce.
The final shot-countershot of this scene is priceless. Lucy has laid it all out for Mildred and Mildred is shocked with her bluntness, still trying to process it all.
"Do you really think I want to be kept?" Mildred asks, while we the audience wrap our heads around the retrograde politics.
"Yes." comes Lucy's smug but entirely friendly reply.