• FemmeCritic

BIG LITTLE LIES -- BTS Scandal & Grade B

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

This HBO female-centric series has Oscar winners up the wazoo, and it shows. The performances are amazing. But it turns out the show's woman director got the rug pulled out from under her by the male show-runners, and we are NOT down with that.

The cast of Big Little Lies (HBO)
The cast of Big Little Lies (HBO)

So I bet you anything that after Big Little Lies' big success last season, producers #ReeseWitherspoon and #NicoleKidman reacted to the valid criticism that the female-centric show was written and directed by men, and set out to correct at least part of that complaint. They weren't gonna let go of powerful show-runner David E. Kelley, so they added novelist #LianeMoriarty as co-writer of every story (though I'm doubtful she did more than give notes), and hired a female director, Andrea Arnold (HBO's Transparent), to take over for Jean-Marc Vallée.

I've written about Vallée before. In my review of last year's HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, I mentioned the difficulties between director Jean-Marc Vallée and that series' female show-runner, who had to constantly remind him to shoot the script, instead of having his main character drive around aimlessly. So I was very happy to hear about Arnold taking over at Big Little.

According to a just-released article in IndieWire though, after Arnold finished the shoot in her more handheld-based camera style, the production was yanked away from her, reshoots were scheduled and the show was re-edited by -- yep, you guessed it, Jean-Marc Vallée.

"The optics were not lost on many associated with Big Little Lies," says writer Chris O'Falt. "A show dominated by some of the most powerful actresses in Hollywood hired a fiercely independent woman director – who was now being forced to watch from the director’s chair as scenes were shot in the style of her male predecessor." Which surprise, resulted in a shit-ton of scenes of the characters driving around in cars. Which also means that Kidman/Witherspoon caved to David E. Kelley and HBO.

The amazing acting ensemble manages to save the final product, though. Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and #LauraDern tear it up and even manage to raise their game opposite the sublime #MerylStreep, who shows them how it's done in this drama-comedy about the well-to-do inhabitants of Monterey and their kids.

Streep plays the mother of Nicole Kidman's abusive husband, who was pushed down the stairs and killed last season by one of what's come to be known as the Monterey Five. The other women band together to protect the culprit (no spoilers), but the reverberations of last season's "big little lies," of course, come back to haunt them all.

Streep seamlessly and effortlessly inhabits any role she plays, and does so here, throwing everyone around her off balance and bringing complexity to the dreaded evil mother-in-law Mary Louise. There's one unbelievable (or really, ultra-believable) moment -- Mary Louise scolds Witherspoon's Queen Bee character, taking the tasteful gold necklace from around her neck and scooting it up to her lips, with the tiny cross charm dangling just below her mouth. Acting! She ain't racked up 21 Oscar nominations for nothing, y'all.

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep About to Chow Down on Her Necklace and Demonstrate Her Acting Chops

David E. Kelley definitely knows how to write smart, funny female dialog (see Ally McBeal), and he's also really good at adding that one extra layer of character ambiguity that keeps the plot from going full Knots Landing.

The central question this season is whether Kidman's abused widow is fit to take care of her kids or whether Mary Louise, as distasteful as she is, really would be the better guardian. Both sides have a point, and neither character would make the perfect mother, so there's that.

The covering-up-the-crime subplot is much less developed, and isn't helped by the appearance of Zoe Kravitz's mother, who seems to have some kind of weird psychic power. Just ... no. What we need is more Laura Dern as the hilarious OTT Renata Klein, who utters the season's best line after her husband forces them into bankruptcy: "I will not NOT be rich!"

Cast of Big Little Lies (HBO)
Cast of Big Little Lies (HBO)

Really, though, I would urge HBO and the producers to let Arnold cut her own version of the show and let viewers decide. Oh, and I would kick Monsieur Jean-Marc Vallée to the curb as soon as possible.