A suspenseful, occasionally darkly funny and very addictive series, Big Little Lies tackles the myth of perfection in a seemingly ideal place that unravels with a deep-seated mystery. Bolstered by superb work from the cast, primarily the ladies, Big Little lies pulls you in with its story and visuals. This review will contain some spoilers, but I promise not to ruin the big mystery.
In Monterey, California, a murder occurs. But we are not privy to who the victim is and why it ended with the taking of life. Flashing back to the start, we build a series of events within the picturesque surroundings that are dark and enigmatic. It all begins with the arrival of Jane Chapman(Shailene Woodley), a single mother who enters the community with her son Ziggy at the beginning of the school year. She is befriended by the fierce Madeline Martha Mackenzie(Reese Witherspoon); a resident queen bee who prides herself on knowing everything and everyone. Jane also meets the elegant Celeste Wright(Nicole Kidman), a former lawyer who gave up her career to raise twin boys. All three are linked by children in the first grade and everything starts to happen on orientation day. Ziggy is accused of assaulting Amabella, the daughter of the highly strung business mum Renata(Laura Dern). This drives a wedge between people and Madeline draws a line in the sand as she’s never liked Renata and lets it be known. From that moment, things start to unravel for the women of the area. The lives of these women appear to be ideal, but scratching beneath the surface unearths another story.They all have their secrets that they attempt to keep under wraps, such as something dark in Jane’s past that she’s running away from, Madeline’s feelings that her daughter is slipping away from her( plus a past affair) and Celeste being in a volatile marriage where she is frequently abused by her husband Perry( Alexander Skarsgård )but can’t seem to leave him. With us knowing that someone is going to end up dead, things get darker and more revealing as the facade of perfection slips and the various events culminate in death for someone.
The first thing that gets your attention about Big Little Lies is the script. It’s both bitingly funny when focusing on society’s image of perfection and alternately darker in the next breath. Having the framing device of a gossiping Greek chorus of supporting characters giving their views on events provides much in the way of intrigue and humour. We go from zingers, bitching at the schoolyard, secrets hidden behind the closed doors of seeming bliss and female bonds are just some of the areas Big Little Lies goes into with its blend of wit, mystery and entertainment. From a stylistic point of view, this show is intoxicating. With the talented Jean-Marc Vallée on direction duties, it’s not surprising that Big Little Lies is such a hit. The vistas of the sea and the fabulous houses that the characters reside in provide much in the way of eye candy. And the editing and direction of the whole thing is very on point. Often, scenes blur into each other and the past bleeds with the present in unique ways that you get more accustomed to as the story gathers momentum. Montage and scenes cut to specific music abound and entice in how they connect the women and display just what’s really going on inside this bubble of supposed domestic paradise.
One of the biggest draws of Big Little Lies is how the mystery stems from the fact that we aren’t told who the murder victim is. Instead, the series flashes back to what lead to the act, excellently drip feeding us with occasional information about it. Most shows would have established who it is that was deceased, but Big Little Lies has other things on its mind to blow the big enigma straight away. Never mind whodunnit, it’s more like a who did it to who in the best possible way. And one shouldn’t forget that Big Little Lies goes to some disturbing places that put jolts into the action and are frequently shocking. Blending both humour and uncomfortable issues, it’s a show that in a sure-footed manner straddles each aspect with an eye for unearthing what sinister and pressure filled things are lurking beneath society’s obsession with paradise. And the succession of strong and rounded female characters is yet another praise worthy part of Big Little Lies. Whether lying, helping each other or trying to deal with life struggles, the vision of women is one that is excellently executed. And the last scenes of female solidarity are some of the best in the show and proudly showcase the excellence at hand here.
Reese Witherspoon heads the cast with energy as the local watcher of all things around her and someone you don’t want to cross. Madeline as a character has a lot of layers and is not just the overprotective and domineering woman of the one-dimensional variety. Witherspoon and her natural perkiness are on show mixed with something more bitchy and flamboyant, yet tempered by hidden fears and insecurity. Nicole Kidman is riveting as the quiet and seemingly calm Celeste, whose life is so much more complicated than it seems to others. With Nicole Kidman essaying mystery and a very complex set of turmoil through nuances, you can’t help but be in awe of her talent. Her eyes are always searching for an answer to her future and are subtly but movingly expressive. Kidman’s ability to register so many emotions in a restrained manner is simply marvellous to watch as she covers such a wide array of feelings within the character of Celeste. Shailene Woodley portrays the youngest mother in Jane, who is something of an outsider in the community. She’s our vantage point into this world of mothers, children and image and one that is terrified yet determined to build a new life for herself and her son. Woodley suggests inner suffering and a deep love for her son in many excellent ways that are explored by her skill and ease in the part. Stealing a lot of scenes with intense and fierce action is Laura Dern. She stars as the pushy, overprotective and snotty mother who lauds her businesswoman acumen over everyone yet can’t cope when things don’t go her way. She manages to be both aggressive and funny within minutes of each other. Zoë Kravitz has the right free spirit and bohemian charm for the role of Bonnie; who is married to Madeline’s former husband and not exactly popular with Madeline who sees her as being too perfect.
The rest of the characters are fleshed out by an array of fine actors. Alexander Skarsgård exudes menace as a weak man whose insecurities are exposed when he beats his wife and feels like he has some power. A loathsome character, Skarsgård plays his to a tee. Adam Scott showcases his nice, average guy persona but colours it with areas of resentment that make him interesting to watch. James Tupper is childish and up for an argument playing Madeline’s former husband who can’t resist confrontation with Adam Scott’s character. And then there is the relaxed and chilled out Jeffrey Nordling, who compliments Dern’s manic behaviour with his no cares attitude. The men are great in Big Little Lies, but the show belongs to the women of the cast who turn in exemplary work.
A highly addictive series that is funny, dramatic and mystery, Big Little Lies is hard to resist, especially with a cast like this and direction this good. And if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the opening titles to entice you.