Liane Moriarty’s “Big Little Lies” on-screen “weaves a darkly comedic tale of murder and mischief in the tranquil beachfront town of Monterey, Calif. Amidst doting moms, successful husbands, beautiful children, and stunning homes exists a community fueled by rumors and divided into haves and have-nots, exposing fractured relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and neighbours… the series’ narrative explores society’s myths regarding perfection and its romanticisation of marriage, sex, parenting and friendship.“
What a steaming load of self-serving bullshit.
But that’s what the official blurb says, along with a credibility-deflating 92% on the Tomatometer and a faith-in-humanity-destroying audience score of 94%. My doubts about RottenTomatoes.com are now validated, because we are stupider for this adaptation. Stupider and meaner for the vapid nastiness that pervades every ‘artistic’ nuance of Kidman, Witherspoon & Co.’s interpretation of the novel. I am almost beyond-words shocked to hear there will be a second series. The first series is irredeemably awful. If Liane Moriarty has any artistic credibility and isn’t just chasing the $$$ then I’d love to hear her distance herself from this rolling tragedy; but I won’t hold my breath, because, you know, the $$$.
I’d be smiling through gritted teeth too, perhaps, but anyhow, I will not be there for Season 2. More sado-masochistic banality from anorexic-looking Kidman’s Sphinx-like Celeste, who resembles a botched-plastic-surgery-victim incapable of conveying simple human expressions. More bitchy harranguing by Witherspoon of her wimpy metrosexual husband (with his ugly glued-on beard), or her lazily one-dimensional daughters aka The Troubled Teen and The Precocious Preteen, or anyone else that gets in her prickly alpha-female path. To complete this drab tryptich, sadly I’m disinterested in Jane, yes that’s right, the selfsame Jane who drives the entire plot — without who the book is nothing — because Jane on-screen is a vehicle for voyeuristic flashbacks to hollow American sex-scene, and nothing more.
Despite significant faults, the novel is a gem. It skewers the vanity and vulgarity of Eastern Suburbs living in Sydney, and manages to develop character while simultaneously ratcheting up the tension. It’s a good, old fashioned page turner. If you want a primer on how to structure a novel, this is it. But what I appreciate most about the book is its humanity and humour, almost all via Madeline. There’s none of that in the HBO series, mostly because Witherspoon’s Madeline is a horror. Kidman is plastic because she is plastic, but Jesus, what’s Witherspoon or Woodley’s excuse? And Laura Dern as Renata? Tell me this gaunt, wine-swilling, ocean-gazing caricature didn’t win an Emmy for her performance? You couldn’t limbo under the bar if you were double-jointed, its set that low.
To be fair, as a male reader Moriarty’s inability or unwillingness to develop male characters pissed me off. But HBO went too far the other way. Part of the novel’s appeal was how it lifts the veil on the female psyche. To make room, every male is reduce to a sketch. In the HBO series, however, we get ludicrous this-would-never-happen scenes where soft-cock ex-husband meets even more flaccid current husband to beat their weaselly chests and bleat about how macho they actually are, despite appearances which scream to the contrary. It begs the question, with women ascendant and taking on many undesirable traditionally male traits, is this weak rump of masculinity feminised? Because I can’t do this AND retain both of my testicles.
What I especially don’t forgive is the lie, promulgated everywhere including the usually reliable New Yorker, that asserts the show stands out from the pack for its “utterly natural rendering of violence as an ordinary part of women’s lives“. This is dangerous bullshit. Violence is not an ordinary part of women’s lives. That Celeste’s husband Perry also abused Jane seems less affecting than the fact he called Jane fat and ugly! Hands up anybody who was surprised he got murdered for that — about as surprising as the news his murderer avoids gaol. Hey, what if Madeline’s husband had shoved Perry to his death, would he have walked free? Of course not. Not even if he’d been brutalised every day of his young life.
I’m reading ‘Truly, Madly, Guilty’ next to see if Moriarty is actually more than just an Agony Aunt with great structure. All I ask for is one fully fleshed, three-dimensional male character who is not by virtue of gender alone a rapist or child molester. A man who’s not a simpering asslicker who defers continuously to his overbearing, aggressive female partner. A man who’s maybe not white, not upper middle-class, and not so nauseatingly privileged. I’d love to see Moriarty bring her deft touch to the story of a female who uses, humiliates, and emotionally destroys every man she comes across, who gets her comeuppance the hands of a former victim. Just to see if she goes to gaol, or whether the commentariat laud her as their next icon.
But who would read that shit, right?