Big Little Lies
Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
HBO limited series may seem like a bunch of desperate housewives but is greatly elevated by a talented cast and crew
Big Little Lies is a 7-episode short form comedy-drama series based on The New York Times bestselling Australian author Liane Moriarty’s novel about the intertwined secrets of families in a seemingly perfect, picturesque town. Originally set in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the shared façade of happy marriages and idealistic lifestyles has been transplanted to Monterey, California by prolific show runner David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, Picket Fences) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild). Featuring one of the great casts assembled for an HBO limited series, the pedigree surrounding Big Little Lies is second to none.
Nothing is ever what it seems. In this seaside town, the parents live vicariously through their children. When new resident and single mum Jane (Shailene Woodley) defends her son Ziggy after he is accused of bullying a classmate, she finds herself on the wrong side of the tight-knit community. Nosy stay-at-home mum Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) interferes and insists that the real culprit is Renata (Laura Dern), a bulldog businesswoman who attempts to ostracise Ziggy as punishment for allegedly hurting her daughter. All of these events set a chain in motion for the upcoming school trivia night, where someone will get what is coming to them.
Cutting between the present day police investigation and the past indiscretions of these women, we hear the snide remarks of envious parents who knew this was an incident waiting to happen. Madeline’s marriage to Ed (Adam Scott) lacks the spark and so she volunteers at the community theatre for a sense of purpose. Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is a beautiful, doting mother to two gorgeous twins and has a handsome, younger husband (Alexander Skarsgard) who adores her, but does she really have it all? Jane is an outsider, and her son’s father is mysteriously out of the picture. Voyeuristically examining these women, we find out that the lies they tell to protect their reputations at all costs only enslave them further to treacherous webs of deceit.
We are graced by humour in the series, despite all the dark undertones. These are no Desperate Housewives, because the humour is situational and subtle. Pointing the finger at the hypocrisies of neighbours who try to extend an olive branch while backstabbing people at the same time often results in showdowns that replicate the schoolyard. Cue endless death stares from rear vision mirrors during school drop-offs. The husbands try to act as the voice of reason – especially nice guy Ed – but they too are not immune to the petty grievances that plague complicated female friendships. Marvellous bayside sunsets and lavish houses that look like they were ripped from Better Homes catalogues give the series its rich cinematography (courtesy of Yves Belanger) and surreal style.
Before dismissing this as simply a melodrama about poor rich women, pay attention to the strength of the cast and the non-linear storytelling. Pacing can be stunted on the odd occasion, but when the lies unravel in the climax, it’s not unlike the smug satisfaction of driving a new Jaguar.