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 Post subject: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2017 10:41 am 
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I realize that Jean-Marc Vallée is far from a forum favorite (certainly isn't one of mine), but I'm surprised there isn't any conversation about the absolutely excellent Big Little Lies here.

It isn't without its flaws, as David E. Kelley's script (unless this was just an editing room contrivance thought up after the fact) relies on absolutely braindead gossipy police interviews with people on the periphery of the main characters - it is in those snippets that the show's worst impulses lie. The writing is abysmal, the tone is way off, and the acting is absurdly hammy - some stuff that would make a CW showrunner blush. Also, these bits are teasing an incident that isn't otherwise strongly hinted at until it actually occurs, and the vibe of those little segments doesn't at all fit the circumstances of what does happen. So, anyway, I fucking hated one or two minutes of each episode, that must be known.

But outside of that? Vallée and a smorgasbord of A+ players deliver a strong reminder that as great as television acting can often be, film actors are capable of even more. I haven't seen Reese Witherspoon this good in anything since Election, Nicole Kidman this good in anything... in fact, the entire cast with few exceptions is absolutely turned up to 11, putting in career highlight work in what is a very difficult (physically, psychologically, tonally) hunk of soap that manages to transcend its paperback roots, much in the way that David Fincher was able to elevate Gone Girl a few years ago to something entirely different than the shoddily written collection of diary entries it was adapted from. Kelley's script is often devastating, giving four lead actresses (I would argue that Zoe Kravitz deserved more of a "main character" positioning and first person perspective the way the other women had, although the show is already filled to the brim with plot and character development, so I sadly wouldn't include her among the leads) so much to work through that isn't often explored beyond its lurid surface on television, especially this sort of "wealthy people eat themselves" drama. In an era when watching the rich take aim at one another's humanity is a national sport, being able to see that humanity laid bare with minimal pulp is quite a feat, but Vallée (of all people, this is by far his career-best work) is up to the challenge of resisting the sort of tabloid trash this could've been under almost anyone else's guidance. It is ultimately a 400+ minute feature film, and a great one at that. There's so much more I could talk about (or tiptoe around), but you should just watch it instead. I wish I weren't so stingy about not including television miniseries among my personal top 10, because this would be very very high on it come year's end.


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 Post subject: Re: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2017 12:49 pm 
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Joined: Wed Apr 28, 2010 12:04 pm
Location: A Midland town spread and darkened into a city
I agree with all that you said, "mfunk9786". Big Little Lies started slow, but became stronger dramatically (and more suspenseful) with each episode. As you say, the police interviews were superfluous and unconvincing (one wonders if this was Kelley thinking that the device worked so well in the first season of True Detective that he should shoe-horn it in here), but the main action was dynamic and, oftentimes, unexpected. In praising the actors, I would add that all of the child actors did masterful jobs as well, working with a script that treated their characters in an intelligent, believable way.

I was worried that...
[Reveal] Spoiler:
...the big charity event theme of Audrey Hepburn meets Elvis Presley would come off as contrived, but Vallée handled this aspect very well, achieving a bit of surrealism that elevated the climax of the show.


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 Post subject: Re: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2017 12:52 pm 
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Joined: Fri May 16, 2008 4:43 pm
Roger Ryan wrote:
I was worried that...
[Reveal] Spoiler:
...the big charity event theme of Audrey Hepburn meets Elvis Presley would come off as contrived, but Vallée handled this aspect very well, achieving a bit of surrealism that elevated the climax of the show.

It also made me realize how very little I am interested in living in that kind of community, whether my income is befitting it or not!


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 Post subject: Re: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2017 11:21 pm 
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Location: Calgary, Alberta
Roger Ryan wrote:
In praising the actors, I would add that all of the child actors did masterful jobs as well, working with a script that treated their characters in an intelligent, believable way.


Man, I disagree strongly with the believable child characters, particularly Witherspoon's precocious, hipster 6 year old. She was a constant source of eye-rolling for me throughout, especially the scene where she walks in on her parents getting a little frisky, doesn't actually see anything, but is somehow able to pick up on the mood in the room and tells them they can go back to having sex.

Besides that minor quibble, I also thought the show was excellent. Starting out, I was expecting a gossipy, bitchy soap opera, but things got pretty dark as it went on. The final episode was incredibly tense, and I don't think I've willed a character to succeed as much as I was for Kidman. She's great here. The "twist" was something I'd guessed at earlier, and when the reveal came, for a split second I thought it was misstep, but I was immediately won over by the force of the acting and editing in that scene.


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 Post subject: Re: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 11:08 am 
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Joined: Fri May 16, 2008 4:43 pm
She definitely acted older than she was, but considering the environment in which she has been raised (and I would argue, her very good, involved, intelligent four co-parents), it's not entirely surprising. I didn't bat too much of an eye at some of her behavior that she clearly picked up from her older sister and her parents, despite how honed the actress was at delivering it. The actor who played Woodley's son, however, was impeccably good.

Cameron - I enjoyed reading your thoughts, and you got me wondering again:

[Reveal] Spoiler:
Why Vallée saw fit to include all the stuff with the suspicious detective in the finale. She couldn't piece together what happened? It's clear that this wasn't a cold-blooded murder, and the tone of the show certainly doesn't put us in the position of thinking of it that way. So why should this investigation matter to us? Just seemed tone-deaf in the same way that the police interviews were.


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 Post subject: Re: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 10:14 am 
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I was totally in on this as regardless of all the flaws and the bougie sensibilities the characters/performances were super interesting. The nuanced take on domestic violence was the best I recall ever seeing. Reese's storyline served as a bit of a mirror to Kidman's but also an honest depiction of 'looks to be perfect but is actually completely fucked'. I'm a fan of Woodley but her youth here didn't serve her storyline well or maybe it served her misfit status which was the point. Zoe Kravitz was by far the weakest part of this, felt like they didn't know what to do with her... was her casting a favor to her agent?... maybe season two will allow her character to develop. The ending wasn't the point of this but I did think it to be clunky.

Other than the music used here was great, I liked the kids quite a bit and thought it nailed a lot about how being a kid in those neighborhoods is like. Also enjoyed the subtle changes to the opening credits over each episode.

Last thing Laura Dern's husband was fantastic, hilarious performance.


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 Post subject: Re: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 10:31 am 
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Black Hat wrote:
I'm a fan of Woodley but her youth here didn't serve her storyline well or maybe it served her misfit status which was the point. Zoe Kravitz was by far the weakest part of this, felt like they didn't know what to do with her... was her casting a favor to her agent?...

These both seem like unfair evaluations of these two performances and characters.

Re: Woodley - you're correct in that her "misfit status" is informed by her age, but she also attracts someone like Witherspoon because of her youth. She gets the first crack at her at the beginning of the series, getting to mold a new arrival to town in her image, but quickly becoming dedicated to the opportunity for an uncomplicated, genuine friendship. One area in which the show mercifully skirted cynicism was not having Witherspoon tear apart Woodley's modest lifestyle or her relaxed approach to beauty and fashion, and I thought that was the key trait in Witherspoon's character that signaled to me that this was a warm, kind person under the bourgeoisie veneer that makes this sort of thing difficult to perceive in your average media with this kind of setting.

Re: Kravitz - why the assumption that she was done a favor? Was she bad, or was the character woefully underwritten and underdeveloped? If it's the latter, how is that something her agent (or she) would be pleased with? If anything, her "fifth banana" status and exclusion from much of the marketing materials and above-the-credits plaudits is the worst thing about this entire series. There is ample opportunity to lose elements that aren't working and aren't necessary and use that time to give us a closer look at Kravitz's life and ambitions the same way we're invited into the four leads', and no one seemed particularly interested in doing so from the screenwriting stage, so that's on them, not Kravitz. That said, the actor playing her husband (Witherspoon's ex) was a certified dud, and it seemed totally confusing why she had any interest in him at all (or Witherspoon for that matter), so maybe protracted scenes of their home life would have been a slog. But if they'd recast him with an actor who had more range and decided to give us more of a five-way split between the main characters, it would have been a welcome change.


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 Post subject: Re: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 10:47 am 
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mfunk9786 wrote:
Black Hat wrote:
I'm a fan of Woodley but her youth here didn't serve her storyline well or maybe it served her misfit status which was the point. Zoe Kravitz was by far the weakest part of this, felt like they didn't know what to do with her... was her casting a favor to her agent?...

These both seem like unfair evaluations of these two performances and characters.

Re: Woodley - you're correct in that her "misfit status" is informed by her age, but she also attracts someone like Witherspoon because of her youth. She gets the first crack at her at the beginning of the series, getting to mold a new arrival to town in her image, but quickly becoming dedicated to the opportunity for an uncomplicated, genuine friendship. One area in which the show mercifully skirted cynicism was not having Witherspoon tear apart Woodley's modest lifestyle or her relaxed approach to beauty and fashion, and I thought that was the key trait in Witherspoon's character that signaled to me that this was a warm, kind person under the bourgeoisie veneer that makes this sort of thing difficult to perceive in your average media with this kind of setting.

Re: Kravitz - why the assumption that she was done a favor? Was she bad, or was the character woefully underwritten and underdeveloped? If it's the latter, how is that something her agent (or she) would be pleased with? If anything, her "fifth banana" status and exclusion from much of the marketing materials and above-the-credits plaudits is the worst thing about this entire series. There is ample opportunity to lose elements that aren't working and aren't necessary and use that time to give us a closer look at Kravitz's life and ambitions the same way we're invited into the four leads', and no one seemed particularly interested in doing so from the screenwriting stage, so that's on them, not Kravitz. That said, the actor playing her husband (Witherspoon's ex) was a certified dud, and it seemed totally confusing why she had any interest in him at all (or Witherspoon for that matter), so maybe protracted scenes of their home life would have been a slog. But if they'd recast him with an actor who had more range and decided to give us more of a five-way split between the main characters, it would have been a welcome change.


Yeah I see what you're saying about Woodley, can't really disagree with anything you said but to me she just didn't seem comfortable playing a mom.

As for Kravitz yeah man that's what I mean when I said it felt like they didn't know what to do with her because she pretty much does nothing — her hubby is a good point — for the duration with the one thing she did do having nothing to do with her character, handled clunkily and telegraphed from a mile away. Not sure what you mean by the rest as being on a prestige HBO show with the likes of NK & RW, not to mention LD is an opportunity most actresses her age would kill for.

One of the things about the show I loved was that there were random things like the sexual tension between Adam Scott & Kravitz that just happened without being expanded on. It was very true to life in that way and I wish more stories would be comfortable showing those spaces in between which don't add up to much of anything but for a few minutes are full of intrigue.


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 Post subject: Re: Big Little Lies
PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 1:22 pm 
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In the final scenes at the party, Kravitz's character sees Kidman's husband stalking her and seems to immediately recognize what's happening (that there's an abusive relationship going on, and that it's about to become violent). I don't think we'd been privy to anything that would explain her reaction to this, so it led me to believe that something may be present in the book, but not in the TV show. Had she been in a similar relationship herself? Had she witnessed this in her parents' relationship? I'm not familiar with the book to know whether any of this was there, or whether I'm reading too much into it, but agreed that it would've been nice to see more of her character's story.


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