Archita Kashyap - 27 weeks ago
When Big Little Lies announced that it has a second season with Meryl Streep on-board, naturally, fans and audiences hoped for fabulous television. Add to that, the stakes going higher with some of Hollywood’s best known, most powerful female actors coming together.
(Laura Dern and Meryl Streep in a still from Big Little Lies)
With Andrea Arnold taking up the mantle of directing this season, the female collaborative held out greater promise of its character arcs taking on more experiential journeys, with moments that the show’s core female audience could relate to. But this season, with a disappointing finale and a feeling of leaving much of the story half baked, displays the impact of placing star clout over narrative. And it suffers from this visibly.
Shot with flourish and a gentle, comforting pace, this season culminates in a courtroom battle between Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), mother to Kidman’s abusive, dead husband Perry Wright (played by Alexander Skarsgård). It reveals the missing time in Celeste’s life after his death, and also offers an insight into the total ignorance that his mother had about his behaviour. But it misses the core point - the big lie that the Monterey Five concealed, leaves a shadow over them and impacts their interactions with their spouses, children and friends. Yet it barely scratches the surface of this, focusing squarely on narrative arcs of characters played by Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep.
(Nicole Kidman in a still from Big Little Lies)
As the story evolves further, it’s the lives of Renata (Laura Dern) and Bonnie (Joe Kravitz) that intrigues, yet these are minimal appearances in an otherwise emotionally crowded show. Bonnie is a victim of abuse from an angry, violent mother as a child and this affects her judgment of most important decisions in life. Her confrontation with a silent, dying mother on the hospital bed is the only moment of expression offered to her character. Unlike the other four, she rarely ever shares her deep sense of guilt, regret and emotional baggage with her ‘friends’. As a coloured woman who makes a living as yoga and wellness teacher, Bonnie sticks out in the plush, comfortable, all white suburban bliss of Monterey. Her evolution in the second season, to an awakening of the fact that she doesn’t love her husband, and that she must confess to the police, is left unexplored beyond dragging silences. Similarly, Laura Dern delivers the best performance of this season with her mercurial, angry, on the verge of a meltdown act of a super-rich career woman set to lose everything to a bankruptcy and a philandering husband. Yet, she is utilised as spots of dramatic relief, leaving explorations of her state of mind beyond anger unaddressed. In stark contrast, Madeleine’s (Reese Witherspoon) infidelity and Celeste’s confused emotions over the loss of an abusive husband that she loved, are at the centre of this show, boring you at times. Witherspoon and Kidman are executive producers on this series, making it evident that their star power has something to say about its content.
A flaw that is impossible to not mention is the total absence of a big lie. In this season, Jane (Shailene Woodley) is grappling with her inability to enjoy physical intimacy, given her history of being raped. She begins to fall for a patient, kind young man, but their story drifts from that point. Renata is angry, but nothing really shocking happens to her or has happened because of her. Meryl Streep as Mary Louise delivers a razor sharp, simmering performance that will be remembered for its subtle villainy, but towards the end, a reconciliation tampers this evil. Streep has crafted a character that stands out for her gestures, behaviour patterns and reactions that bring weird rationale to her reasons of being nasty. But the larger questions - of motherhood, tolerance, acceptance, of fighting back and keeping up appearances - are left unaddressed beyond cursory mentions. If anything, this season concludes with truth telling - as all five characters, the Monterey Five, assemble outside the police station to confess to Perry’s death. But the complete absence of drama and emotion in this scene is reflective of the fundamental flaw in season 2; there’s nothing much going on with this star studded cast.
(Zoe Kravitz, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern in a still from Big Little Lies)
Hollywood press has reported on conflicts and clashes that took place behind the scenes of this season. Director Andrea Arnold, whose work includes winners at Cannes like Fish Tank and American Honey, has reportedly had to watch from side lines while her story has been edited and portions cut from her film. Under the leadership of Jean Marc Vallee - season one director, the crew took almost three weeks to re-shoot portions. Clearly narrative has suffered from these changes. Big Little Lies was a sensation, and an honourable show that made its team proud when it launched. Now the drama seems to be playing out during it’s making, while the story falters and star power gets weightage beyond its need. At best, this is unfortunate for prestige TV.
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