TV Review: “Big Little Lies” – Completely Addictive

Written by Sydney O'Keefe June 12, 2017

big little lies

HBO’s miniseries Big Little Lies, based on the bestselling book by Liane Moriarty, has become a breakout success. The cast is full of raw star power like Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Mackenzie, Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright, Shailene Woodley as Jane Chapman. But with the enticing changes made from book to screen – especially the expansion of Renata Klein played by Laura Dern – audiences are left with an addictive adaption.

Big Little Lies revolves around three mothers with kids starting the first grade together. Madeline and her best friend Celeste befriend young Jane. Fast friends Madeline rallies behind Jane when her son Iggy is accused of choking Renata’s daughter Amabella. Madeline takes on Jane’s plights as her own and helps her navigate the rough waters of their upper-class suburb in California. As their friendship grows Jane reveals that she doesn’t know the identity of Iggy’s father, who raped her years earlier, besides the presumed alias Saxon Banks. Together the three women search for answers. Meanwhile, Celeste’s life mirrors the violence of Jane’s rape as her husband becomes more and more violent towards her.  While this plot-line plays out in flashbacks, in the present the police are questioning minor characters about a recent murder. All of the mysteries presented throughout the 7 episode series culminate in the finale with a shocking revelation.

“No, I love my grudges. I tend to them like little pets.”

Big Little Lies has gained a lot of traction due to its built-in fan base of the bestselling book and the from the infamous lead actresses. It deserves all the acclaim and notoriety. The acting is phenomenal. Witherspoon brings a gritty realness to a character that could have easily been written off as superficial. Shailene portrayed the slow rebuilding of Jane’s life after serious trauma beautifully. Nicole Kidman really takes the cake. The entire show is based on people being different than they first seem, and that the most seemingly families can have some serious cracks. This is true in the lives of Madeline, Jane, Renata and even Madeline’s ex’s new wife and perceived rival Bonnie.

big little lies

But it’s Celeste who’s been keeping the biggest secret. She seems to have a perfect family; her and her husband Perry are described as impossibly beautiful. But the deeper we delve into Celeste’s life the more becomes clear her life isn’t idyllic. Perry is horrifically abusive. However, in the book Perry is portrayed as an out and out monster with no redeemable qualities. In the show, the writers have portrayed the abuse as a slow build. It starts as just aggression and yelling, then he grabs her, and before too long Celeste is cowering on the floor of the bathroom naked and terrified of the man who vowed to love her. The slow transformation of their relationship on the show makes the abusive relationship seem more realistic. The writers portray Perry as deeply remorseful after every instance of abuse. His sadness and desperation for Celeste to stay with him create a pseudo-sympathetic dynamic that again is realistc. So few people are monstrous all the time, and these small bursts of perceived kindness and affection are how abusive victims justify their relationships. Furthermore, Perry’s character on the show events suggest that Celeste and he return to couples therapy as he wants to work on his issues. Kidman really made the character’s tortured and complex personal life feel real; Kidman said she became enraged after a particularity brutal scene with her on-screen husband. The writing of Perry mixed with the acting of Kidman created a heartbreakingly realistic dynamic.

“You know what? I’m a lady and I’ve never said this to anyone in my entire life, but you can go fuck yourself right on the head.”

Renata Klein, who is the mother of bully victim Amabella, originally comes across as a one-dimensional villain. But as the story progresses the writers give Renata her due. As the only full-time career woman and mother, she faces different struggles. She desperately wants to help her daughter and this manifests as being mean to Jane who in comparison to Renata is young, inexperienced, poor, and traumatized. Renate appears cruel until we get a touching scene with her character. After a nasty confrontation with Renata and Jane, they have an incredible heart to heart. Jane touchingly admits that she realized the only person that could understand her stress is Renata who is going through something similar. They realize that together they can find out what is really going on at the school and who is hurting Amabella. All in all, Renata became my favourite character pretty quickly because her sole purpose was to ensure the safety and happiness of her daughter.

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Every character in Big Little Lies is so completely flawed that it makes them completely relatable. Each character deals with their own trials and tribulations. Madeline is having an affair; Celeste is hiding the abuse of her husband; Jane is still traumatized by her rape and struggles to sleep at night. The most beautiful women have the ugliest secrets. Big Little Lies reads like an adult Pretty Little Liars that’s actually good. The women are trying so hard to keep their secrets buried that it nearly strangles them. Once Jane admits to her friends that her son is a product of rape she is instantly elevated and able to enjoy her life again. The same happens to Celeste and Madeline once their secrets are revealed.

“I have a lot of girlfriends, as you know, and never has one of them said to me, ‘Gee, I wish I’d had a sex a LOT sooner.'”

The ending of Big Little Lies is picturesque, much like their lives seemed to be. They all enjoy the day and each other. The series, and especially the ending, is an homage to the value of friendships between women and the power they possess. And if that isn’t reason enough to watch it, then the intoxicating mix of the women’s secrets slowly being revealed coupled with the murder mystery makes it the perfect recipe for a binge-worthy series.

My Rating: 8/10

big little lies

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