Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #638 - Big Little Lies, TV and Book Review
And now for something you would like, Mom. Actually, something you would have LOVED. As a huge Reese Witherspoon fan, you would have loved this show.
So, Big Little Lies -- based on the book by Liane Moriarity -- did not really hit my radar until Liesel reminded me it was starting and we should record it. We like the 9 p.m. Sunday night HBO show thing, but rarely can we stay up to watch the show on Sunday nights, at least not lately, as we're sometimes asleep by 8:30 p.m. ASLEEP not just in bed.
So we recorded Big Little Lies and started watching it on Monday or Tuesday following.
I was instantly hooked just based on the cast with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgard, Adam Scott, Laura Dern, and even though I was not acquainted with her work, Shailene Woodley. Also, learning that David E. Kelley was an executive producer hooked me. I only knew Jean-Marc Vallée.
Liesel reminded me that she had read the book on her way home from England last year and suggested that I would like it. So I promptly bought a copy, downloaded the audio, and started to listen.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
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RE: SPOILERS: I don't have to explain that you read at your own risk, right?
Liane Moriarity's book Big Little Lies is set in Australia and not California, like the TV show. There are many differences, which I will outline here. As is usually the case, I like the book better, and I do not see the sense in some of the changes made for the TV show, though the switch to America is one of the sensible changes given the cast (though Nicole Kidman is from Australia).
The hook the book provides is very alluring. Apparently, a murder has taken place at a school trivia night fund raiser party. The book opens with snippets from police interviews with people who were at the Trivia Night.
After a short chapter that provides some context and background, the second chapter jumps back in time "six months before the trivia night" to tell the story of the events leading up to the murder. We readers are led along with the lure that we will find out what happened in the end, both the victim and the murderer (or was it an accidental death?), and there are a few clues sprinkled in along the way as the snippets of the police interviews are woven throughout. At one point a character mentions the tragedy of seeing "that little boy laying a flower on the coffin," which narrows the list of potential victims to the parents who have sons.
If I was not already sold by my wife's endorsement, which is enough for me, and this great set-up, I would be sold by the cover blurbs, on of which is by Stephen King, and I tend to like most of what he likes.
The book's story focuses mostly on three women who are (or become, as one is a new addition) close friends. Madeline (played in the TV show by Reese Witherspoon) is a high-strung and angry woman on her second marriage, dealing with a teenager (Abigail) whose quest to find herself steers her away from her mother. Though re-married to a wonderful man (Ed), who is more wonderful in the TV show, actually as played by the smart young actor Adam Scott (Ben Wyatt - Parks and Recreation) with two kids with Ed (though in the book this is trimmed to one, the little girl, Chloe), she's still bitter about her ex-husband, Nathan (James Tupper) leaving her 12 years ago, especially now that he has re-married a younger and more spiritually centered woman (Bonnie/ Zoë Kravitz): think yoga, vegan, new age hippy.
A lawyer who gave up her career for her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), a very successful real estate mogul. Celeste (Nicole Kidman) hides a secret, which is that her husband beats her. Though not a narrowly-defined stereotype of a battered wife (Celeste fights back), the power dynamics and the blame shifting and the complexity of love and hate and fear make Celeste's story the most compelling in both the book and the TV show. Celeste has not even shared her secret with her best friend Madeline, and she is waiting until her twin boys (just starting Kindergartern) graduate high school to leave her abusive husband.
Celeste plans change when a new mom, Jane (Shailene Woodley), and her little boy, Ziggy, move to town (both book and TV show are set in seaside communities with posh homes and private schools). Jane also has a secret, but she does not keep hers long: Ziggy is the result of a sexual assault. The book's assault is constructed in the grey area between what is commonly defined as violent rape and what is usually termed non-consensual sex. It's all rape, of course, and the abuse is real whether it's physical as in the TV show or emotional/verbal as it is in the book.
But the assault that Jane suffered five years before is key to the catalytic event that occurs, six months before the trivia night, which sparked a chain of events that lead to a murder/death that's being investigated by the police. During Kindergarten orientation, shy, little Amabella Klein, Renata (Laura Dern) Klein's daughter accuses Jane's son Ziggy of choking her. This accusation sets loose a chain of events as the parents and school officials exert their "zero tolerance" policy for bullying. Ziggy flatly denies hurting Amabella, but the parents helicopter over all a bit more frantically. Later, when Amabella shows evidence that she's been bitten some parents, not even Renata, start a petition to have Ziggy removed from the school permanently. In the private school world of helicopter parents, accusation is all it takes to be condemned. In this upscale world, rich, Prada strutting matriarchs (and a few patriarchs), what Madeline calls the "Blonde Bobs," circle the wagons, especially when a new Mom, an interloper, has come to town and threatens the sanctity of their inner circle.
The inner circle is much better characterized in the book than in the TV show, but the character of Renata Klein is much better portrayed in the TV show, by Laura Dern, than in the book, where she's more of caricature, very one-dimensional.
The book is a great, fun ride, teased by the details of the murder/death that carries the reader along as he/she evolves a pet theory. The TV show tips its hand sooner. It's quite obvious early on that Perry, Celeste's husband, the out of control rageaholic abuser will either by the killer or the victim, which is a clue delivered in the first episode. The book holds its cards to the vest a bit longer but about midway shares a clue when someone describes a little boy whose life is forever changed by the death as he is seen laying a flower on the casket at the funeral, which limits the victims to the parents of boys. In the book, this keeps Madeline as a possibility, though in the TV show she has no son, so she would be eliminated by this.
The book deftly ratchets up its suspense to the trivia night party and the final confrontations. It was obvious for a while that Perry is Ziggy's father (Jane's son), the result of that sexual assault. In the book, the father is revealed to be "Saxson Banks," Perry's cousin. Celeste remembers a night before her twins were born in which Perry and his cousin go off and are gone for many hours fetching a car.
Believing Perry's cousin is Ziggy's father, Madeline and Celeste decide to hold that information back from Jane until they can decide when to best share it with her.
Meanwhile, other story lines resolve. Max, "the mean twin," is revealed to be the bully. Madeline's daughter Abigail chooses to auction off her virginity on the Internet to bring attention to and raise money for sex slavery and sex trade as fought by Amnesty International.
In the TV show, all these story lines are much more poorly handled. The issue of Ziggy's paternity is much more obfuscated as the man is not found out to be Perry's cousin. The name is a borrowed one, and Jane goes to confront the man who has the name only to find out he is not her attacker. The tension about the identity of the school bully is built much more quickly, and though this is handled well enough for a TV show, the issue of Abigail's auction is a much more minor tangent in the overall plot and not nearly as well resolved as in the book.
Also, the TV show adds story lines, which is actually not a bad idea. In the TV show, Madeline had an affair that still lingers, and Jane has a gun. The gun element is not well handled though it does ratchet up suspense in the show. Madeline's affair is an interesting story that gives Madeline's character more depth and importance to the story. The affair also features in well in the resolution of Abigail's virginity auction, but ultimately, not much in the way of resolution happens with the story. In the book, Madeline and Ed have conflict over hiding the identity of the killer, but this is skipped in the TV show, which was a poor choice.
In the book, the scene unfolds masterfully. Celeste's plans to leave Perry are found out when he intercepts a call from her property manager about smoke alarms for her new apartment just before they are to leave for the trivia night. Celeste also remembers that Perry often used his cousin's name to shift blame and realizes that Perry is most certainly Ziggy's father.
Bonnie's character is better constructed in the book as well as we learn that she lived in an abusive home her whole life, watching her mother beaten by her father.
As a reader, we know that Jane has never met Perry, and so when she sees him at the Trivia Night, though she has changed her look dramatically, she has the great line in response to his "we've never met" when she says "yes, we have but you said your name was Saxson Banks."
This puts Perry on the spot for his affair as everyone realizes that he's Ziggy's father. He has been trying to get Celeste away from the others to discuss her leaving him, but now he must back pedal with "it meant nothing" when everyone else thinks it's clearly everything.
His rage explodes and he attacks Celeste in front of the others, prompting people to suggest calling the police. It's Bonnie that cuts the tension with her sudden understanding: "that's why your son has been hurting little girls."
Perry tries to grasp at the last thing he can hold onto and believe as good claiming that his children don't see what he does to Celeste. Bonnie loses it at this, because of her own past, and has the book's best lines: "Your children see!" screamed Bonnie. Her face ugly with rage. "We see! We fucking see!" And then she shoves Perry, who falls off the deck to his death.
In the TV show, it's a steep stair that's been closed off as unsafe the entire show, and for their part, the creators set up this stair well from the first episode.
But then, much like the way the child's death is shown in the poor adaptation movie of Irving's The World According to Garp, the camera centers on a still of Perry's face and then cuts to a montage of police flashing lights and other jumbled camera effects. The entire story is then resolved in a series of scenes set to music culminating in the women all together in the end, keeping the secret for Bonnie. Though the TV show shares some police interrogations of their cover up, the underlying issues and reasons are not shared at all.
The worst part is that all the tension that the final episode builds to that scene in which the death takes place is ruined when the creators fail to SHOW the scene, instead taking the cheap way out with the still and montages and hurried police investigations.
I even said out loud "Oh no, they didn't" and "you're fucking kidding me."
The show is worth watching despite the AWFUL ending. The cast is great, and there's plenty of good stuff. Plus it's only six episodes so it's easily binged.
I give the book a 9.4 out of 10, and the show a 7.8 out of 10 simply brought down by the terrible ending (though I like the final scene on the beach).
Oh, yeah, Happy Easter.
Great stuff on the show (and book) being a good example of female friendship (sisterhood) and talk of a second season, which may be a mistake.
MAYBE SEASON TWO?
Reflect and connect.
Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you.
I miss you so very much, Mom.
Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.
- Days ago = 651 days ago
- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1704.16 - 10:10 (my time) 7:10 Google time