by Nathaniel R
Why yes she is, Alexander, she is. So's the show.
Sometimes, on particularly dark-mood days, as your editor sits in the Film Experience HQ, a lonely room high atop a tower, he worries that he'll spot a mob of angry actressexuals with torches gathering on the road below. They scream "Why haven't you written about _________???"
Such has been the feeling each Sunday night when Big Little Lies has aired on HBO, resplendent with actressing and yet, crickets. So before the mob gathers, we'll try to catch up really quick so we're on the weekly schedule...
This dizzying series feels too large to rush an essay about, so how about a list format to review? Yes? [Doesn't wait for response] Okay then, a list it is! (Keep the comments restricted to the this episode please)
Top Ten MVPs of Big Little Lies. Episode 1
In the first episode a murder at a grade school fundraiser draws police attention to an earlier incident on orientation day when four mothers Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Renata (Laura Dern), Jane (Shailene Woodley), and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) get into an argument over what to do when Renata's daughter accuses Jane's son of trying to strangle her.
Not Ranked: THE FRAMING DEVICE. Talking heads as Greek choruses and flashback structures for murder mysteries are so tired from overuse they could well hibernate for years. Just tell the damn story!
10 Cinematography & Style
From the intense saturation of constantly shifting color from police lights at night to the interruption of a a tranquil beach shot with the sound of a screen blocking it out before the credits this whole thing looks and sounds as delicious as Alexander Skarsgård swears Nicole Kidman tastes.
You love it when I'm bad."
09 Finger Guns
From cartoonish-sneak attacks on his wife, to those finger guns, there's something both irressistibly fun and dangerous about Perry the manchild via Alexander Skarsgård's memorable body language. Somethings off in this "gooey" marriage. I guess we'll find out what. (By the end of the episode he's all glowering petulance, still a manchild but not so cute.)
08 Like Parent, Like Child
From the first episode it's clear that we're meant to draw parallels between children and parents. Iain Armitage is a great match for Shailene Woodley's caginess -- what is going on in that head? Especially precise on this parent/child point is that scene in the back of the car when Ziggy relaxes into a tiny smile when Reese Witherspoon's mini-Alpha me (Darby Camp, terrific as "Chloe") asks him about what kind of music he likes but doesn't let him answer: "Let me guess, Bowie". All of the child actors seem gifted so props to David Rubin's casting department.
07 Foreign & Familiar
I didn't know what to make AT ALL of the way too long shot / reverse shot of Jane and Celeste eyeballing each other but intriguing it was. Bonus points for Madeline's casual intimacy and control of the scene, foot up on Celeste's lap; she also has no idea what to make of the glances or Jane's train of thought "If only I were here..." but that's not going to stop her from controlling the conversation. One gets the sense in this scene that Madeline doesn't really understand Celeste, her best friend, either. A casual line from Madeline's husband at the dinner table later about Celeste being "wounded"," and the degree to which it pisses her off, reinforces this impression.
None of us really see things as they. We see things as we are."
06 Zoë Kravitz raised eyebrows
Zoe's punctuation of this scene, a conversaion with her husband about Madeline (her husband's ex) with lifted brow is too marvelous. This could have been a heavy line, or too thematically spot on. But Zoe playfully sends up her own zen yoga spirituality with those eyebrows, making the line both wise and self aware and funny and full of sympathy for her husband, too, and so many things at once; I'm in love.
Nice to meet you, Funny Jane."
05 Tom the Coffee Shop Guy
That feeling when someone is barely in a scene but you instantly want them in lots of scenes. I was heartbroken to discover that he's only in two episodes when I looked at IMDb. FYI that's Joseph Cross from Running With Scissors (2006) who clearly deserves bigger parts than he's getting.
I'm not liked.
04 Real Estate Porn
Kudos to the Production Designer for making everyone's homes disgustingly drool worthy and specific, but also a rival and homogenous set of wealth displays: patio, view, windowed kitchen. Laura Dern is great (I guess that goes without saying). Her speech here reminds us that this show could easily have been called Feud: Renata and Madeline instead if we may borrow a suggestion from that other current series we'll talk about in which we are told that feuds are never about hatred, but about pain.
03 The Incident
When a whole series is going to hinge on an inciting moment from which everything spins out of control, you better make that scene a corker and wow did they nail this orientation kerfuffle when Renata's daughter Amabella (that's not a typo, hee!) accuses Jane's son Ziggy of strangling her and it's instant war between mothers. So much groundwork has already been layed out by the actresses (Dern & Witherspoon, who last played mother & daugher in Wild, are relishing in their mutual hatred this time... even before the incident albeit it subtled undercutting ways). This scene is just thrilling from start to finish and with every reaction shot aside.
I'll make sure everyone knows Renata is your best friend.
02 Napoleon Complex
Director Jean-Marc Vallée and his cinematographer Yves Belanger have so much fun accentuating the friction between Reese's tiny body and her skyscraper attitude. Everyone towers over her but she's always the biggest diva in the room. (The funny image of her limping beside companion/giantess Nicole Kidman with rolled ankle are also great)
01 Reese Witherspoon. Full Stop
Good god, woman! Genius. Witherspoon hasn't been this revelatory since... since... possibly ever. This easily rivals the best work of her career and if she's this strong in every episode it'll top them. You've got Man in the Moon's (1991) purity, Election's (1999) funny relentlessness, and Wild's (2015) emotional acuity. Literally everything about her late in the episode "I'm losing my babies" monologue to her eldest daughter (Kathryn Newton, also strong... loved her reaction to her mom stroking her hair) is perfect-perfect-perfect. So many shades and colors with so much fluidity and life in it as the scene progresses and changes as her second daughter enters. Perhaps they shouldn't bother with Best Actress in a Limited Series this year because she's surely Reese has already won it?