Reviews

June 10, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Big Little Lies”

 

BIG LITTLE LIES:  Sunday 9PM on HBO

There are two notable additions to the second season of HBO’s BIG LITTLE LIES–one of whom has understandably been talked about much more than the other–as well as a subtraction.  The celebrated newcomer, of course, is Meryl Streep as Mary Louise, mother of the deceased Perry (Alexander Skarsgard, still a participant in flashbacks), mother-in-law of Perry’s abused widow Celeste (Nicole Kidman), and apparently the main plot engine of Season 2, a soft-spoken but steely Columbo determined to find out how her beloved son died.  She’s already zeroing in on the Monterey Five:  Celeste and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Renata (Laura Dern), and Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), the last of whom actually gave Perry his fatal push.

The other new figure is behind the camera, as Andrea Arnold has taken over directing duties from Jean-Marc Vallee.  (He retains credits as both a producer and an editor.)  Arnold, whose films include Fish Tank and American Honey, works with cinematographer Jim Frohna toward a less aggressively hand-held style than Vallee’s, and although Lies still employs fragmentary flashbacks, Arnold’s aren’t quite as dreamy, making for a more naturalistic feel.

The subtraction this time around, at least in the early going, is mystery.  It took us a while in Season 1 to find out that Perry was both beating his wife and was the rapist who’d impregnated Jane.  Even the identity of the bully who was troubling Renata’s daughter was revealed over time.  In Season 2, there’s the very big lie of the circumstances of Perry’s death, but we viewers already know the truth, so the dynamic is different than in the first season.  That was intended to be a closed-ended limited series, revived when it became a signature hit for the network and its stars, and Season 1 ended its story.

It remains to be seen whether there’s enough here to fill 7 hours, even hours crammed with as much fine acting and production values as these.  The brisk 45-minute season premiere, written by series creator David E. Kelley from a story devised with original novelist Liane Moriarty, didn’t have much to offer in the way of plot beyond Mary Louise’s doggedness and Bonnie’s increasing crisis of conscience, aside from the question of whether Madeline’s daughter Abigail (Kathryn Newton) will go to college or work for a start-up aiming to fight homelessness.

Even if Season 2 turns out to be more of an afterthought than an essential item, there will be plenty here worth watching.  The passive-aggressive confrontations between Streep and Witherspoon alone are riveting displays of craft, and Kidman’s Celeste continues to be a thoughtful, moving portrait of a character trying to dig out of years’ worth of pain.

Big Little Lies carefully laid its track in Season 1 for the climaxes that emerged later in its run, and perhaps Season 2 will work the same way.  If not, there are worse says to spend summer Sundays than watching half a dozen of the best actresses around inhabit both complex characters and swank real estate.

 



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on screened.com and the-burg.com. In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."




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