Thanks to a kind benefactor with a willingness to share his/her HBO Go password, Sister #4 & I spent a majority of this weekend watching the TV version of “Big Little Lies.”
I read the book by Liane Moriarty sometime this winter and I really enjoyed it. I was super pumped to learn it was going to a be a mini-series, which I guess we call “limited series” now for reasons that I do not know. Come on. . . that cast? Reese Witherspoon? Laura Dern? Adam Scott with a beard?! Sign me up.
After watching the show it’s a little hard not to be one of those “the book was soooo much better” assholes, but I’m kind of here doing exactly that. Well, kind of. Most of the time I think people say “the book was soooo much better” just so they can humble brag about reading the book. We get it, you’re super literary. Shut up. I am guilty of this too on the rare occasion I actually watch the movie of a book I read. I’m more of an I read the book and never bothered with the movie at all.
Why? Because I don’t watch a lot of movies. In fact, just last night I annoyed the hell out of Sisters #3 & #4 because I did not care at all about renting a bunch of Oscar-nominated movies.
“Want to rent ‘Fences’?” Sister #4 asked.
“I don’t care,” I said.
“Well how about ‘Moonlight’?”
“I really don’t care.”
“What?” Sister #3 asked. “Why do you even care about the Oscars then?”
“I don’t care about the Oscars. I just like award shows.”
Then they spent 10 minutes complaining about my movie apathy and I tried to explain about having ADD when it comes to movies & TV and they didn’t listen because they are bitches. (Aside: We came home and watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” in case you were wondering).
So where was I? Oh. My thoughts on book to motion picture media adaptations. Often I try to separate the book from the TV/movie version. It’s just easier that way. It helps prevent things like the great Simon Birch/A Prayer for Owen Meany debacle of 1998. Sister #2 and I went to see that in the theater. THE THEATER! And it was so traumatic that we still never talk about it.
For the most part I really enjoyed watching “Big Little Lies.” Here’s a quick rundown of the plot: Madeline, Celeste are BFFs who welcome single, new-to-town, much-younger-than-everyone else, Jane into their group. On orientation day Jane’s son is accused of choking Renata Klein’s daughter. Things get much worse from there. As the show opens there’s been a murder at the elementary school fundraiser. You don’t know who the victim is or who the murderer is, and the show spends most of its episodes building tension so that you aren’t sure who in the hell could be dead or who would have killed them.
The female friendships were solid and believable. Though I think the Greek Chorus that was used so effectively in the book is a lacking in the television version. In the book you got to know who these chorus characters were — that’s the hot dad, that’s the fitness-obsessed mom, that’s the career-mom — and doing so Moriarty poked fun at the parental stereotypes. Those characterizations didn’t come through in the show.
Most people are lauding the shit out of Nicole Kidman’s performance, I was all about Laura Dern’s small role as Renata Klein. I love Laura Dern. I’m not so keen on Kidman who always comes off really cold to me. She’s no different here as Celeste.
While I really missed the humor from the book, I get that they writer & director were not going for that at all in the series. It’s meant to be dark and edgy, which was kind of what annoyed me.
First the darkness. . . I’ve bitched about this before, and while I can get down with thematic darkness does that have to translate into actual literal darkness on the screen? In the last episode the fundraising party was so dark I couldn’t see half the shit that was going on. I kept having to ask my sister “Who was that? What’s going on. Can you see anything?” She couldn’t and when the murder victim was finally revealed, the scene was so dark that she couldn’t really tell who it was. Maybe my TV is shitty, or maybe people need to turn on some goddamn lights.
And this actual, literal darkness leads me to my other disappointment. The big reveals. A lot of the mystery is discovered by our three main characters with mere glances at each other. BLERGH. I don’t want to spoil anything, but at the height of tension when shit is going down, the three women telegraph everything just by looking at each other. We’re talking big, dark secrets revealed through a look and not the “OH MY GOD can you believe what she just said/did/wore?” snark that you can communicate to your BFF with a raised eyebrow.
It’s bullshit and disappointing bullshit at that, and by taking this bullshit dramatic route to the truth the director and screenplay writer rob one of the characters of the best line of the whole story and the empowerment and growth she worked so hard to gain. Boo! Hiss! Grrr.