Review: HBO’s “Big Little Lies”

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Weeks ago, HBO premiered the first of its seven episode mini-series “Big Little Lies.”

By the end of the episode, I was hooked and eagerly waited each week for the next episode to premiere. On April 2, the show came to an end and I finally was able to write this review, which I held off on because I wanted to wait until it ended on the off chance it was one of those shows which slowly went downhill as it progressed. I’m not going to lie though, not only did it manage to keep its flame going but it also managed to get brighter and by the end it delivered an explosive finale which left us as an audience not only wanting more, but equally satisfied as well.

Based on the novel of the same name, “Big Little Lies” tells the story of a child who is being abused at school. Told through flashbacks, we are quickly introduced to five different women; Madeline ( Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Renata (Laura Dern) and Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz).  As each of these women confront one another and try to figure out who the bully is that is putting their children in harm’s way, each of their secrets begin to spill out before coming down to a confrontation that ends with a murder taking place during a school fundraiser.

“Big Little Lies” is the kind of show that makes you think. It sheds light on topics that are often left in the dark and glazed over as if they aren’t really happening. Throw in the fact that it’s a show being led by five women taking center stage, this show feels extremely necessary, especially in the time we’re currently living in. With as many accomplishments that the show achieves, it’s worth noting that it still manages to fall short and isn’t quite the perfection it almost was.

For starters, throughout the entire series we are plagued with a number of flashbacks, flash-forwards and fantasy sequences that make the timeline of the show extremely confusing. The flash-forwards don’t hurt as much, but it’s really hard to tell the difference between a flashback and a fantasy sequence within this show and it often ends up being a huge distraction. I’d imagine that if you watched the series straight through they might make a bit more sense but not by much. This is most prevalent with Jane’s storyline as she is dealing with a secret which she’s spent most of her adult life running from. we’re given glimpses here and there, but for the most part it’s kept in the dark and are left to Jane and her imagination and it’s hard to tell what really happened and what didn’t.

Another hit this show takes is it’s choppy editing which might be the reason the timeline gets confusing. For the most part, when it’s dealing with the present the editing is fine. It isn’t until we start jumping back and forth and spinning in fantasy-land that it gets wish-washed. This is also what I felt hurt the finale in the very end. The entire episode does an excellent job building up the tension that leads to the murder and when the moment finally arrives, I was holding my breath in anticipation. Sadly, when the murder happens it cuts back and forth between the attack and waves crashing in the ocean and any tension that I had leading up to this moment quickly went away. I felt almost cheated as I wasn’t able to clearly watch the events that I’d been waiting for since episode one.

Taking away what I just mentioned, everything else within this show is simply storytelling at its finest and reminds us just how good television can be. As I said, this is a show with five female leads who get more screen time than any of their male counterparts and it pays off in a huge way as each of these actresses deliver performances that we haven’t seen them give in a long time.

As Madeline, Witherspoon is clearly having a ball and we get to see her in way that we rarely ever get to see her. In fact, I don’t think we’ve seen her play a character like this since 1999’s “Election” and it makes me wish she’d take on more roles like this. In recent memory it was her work in “Wild” that has stood out as her best work but in my opinion, this is the role that reminds us how much talent she has. With Jane, Woodley also reminds us that hey, this girl can act! When you look at her work in the “Divergent” series, it’s easy to not be all that impressed by her but when you take in her work in films such as “The Descendants,” “The fault in our stars” and now this, we really get to see her shine.

With Celeste, Kidman delivers what I feel to be her most vulnerable performance in years and I think come next year’s Emmy awards, she’ll definitely be taking home a statue as she is easily the strongest performer throughout the series.

I’ve been a fan of Dern for years, and in my opinion she’s welcome to be in every single movie that will ever be made until the day she dies. Her performance in this show is nothing short but spectacular. Her character, Renata, is painted as the “villain,” the one who doesn’t give Jane the chance the other women give her and is often the stirrer of conflict.In spite of that, Dern still manages to bring a sense of sympathy to the role that even when we’re supposed to be hating her, we’re also feeling sorry for her and find ourselves stepping into her corner.

Lastly, not to leave her out, I’ll be honest and say I’ve never been a fan of Zoe Kravitz’s work. She’s never really given a performance that made me take her seriously as an actress. Luckily, she managed to get me to change my mind with this role as I finally felt she was able to … well … act. It can’t be easy to share a screen with the other women involved in this project, but Kravitz manages to hold her own and doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

This is a show that is an example of what kind of magic can happen when the acting, writing and directing all come together and are all on the same page. I’d go into more detail but I’ve already gone on too long. So I’ll simply end by saying “Big Little Lies” is a show you need to start watching if you haven’t already.

The bottom line: With a cast this spectacular and a mystery just dark enough to hold your attention until the very end, “Big Little Lies” is one of the best shows you’ll watch all year and one that will get you thinking about issues you’ve probably never bothered to think about.

*“Big Little Lies” is now available in its entirety on HBO On Demand or HBO Go.




There are 2 comments

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  1. Feline

    Respectfully disagree with the editing comments. For me, the editing was one of the best parts of the show. I felt the jumps helped capture the inner turmoil of emotion the characters were experiencing. The uncertainty of what was past, present, future and fantasy intrigued me more to find out and increased my sympathy and compassion for the characters. It made the experience more relatable in seeing how the constant pressure the woman place on themselves to try to convince themselves they are perfect paired with serious underlying issues affected their mental health.

  2. Val

    I agree with Feline and couldn’t disagree with the author more. IMHO the editing was amazing. I also LOVED that the murder sequence was cut with the waves. We know what happened, and I found it was done perfectly and powerfully. I liked that the scenes of intense violence were cut short through out the show. Again, we know what happened and we don’t need to see the whole thing. I think it would be too intense. Plus, it is similar to the experience of the characters, the scenes are violent and confusing and that should be enough for us as an audience.

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