Big Little Lies Review

I am finally catching up on some tv shows and movies that I’ve been meaning to watch the past month, but unfortunately life just finds a way of getting in the way and prohibiting you from doing some fun relaxing things like spending several hours catching up on a season of television or spending a night writing about said show or movie.  But here I am, after several busy-in-life-outside-of-work weeks, writing once again.  And I recently finished Big Little Lies (!), which on the surface seems like it could be the most superficial show about rich white people ever, but it’s so much more! And also, really good.

Going in, I knew the show was based on a book I never read, and starred Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, and was directed by the guy who directed Wild.  But three aspects of the show really stood out to me and truly surprised me with its craft, writing and acting.  Once the opening credits started rolling, I was literally exclaiming (which is rare because I’m usually very quiet watching a film) with delight at the riches of the cast in this show.  Alexander Skarsgaard, Zoe Kravitz, Laura fucking Dern, Shaleine Woodley and Adam Scott.  And each of these incredible actors bring their A-game.  They all have undeniable chemistry and really bring the best out of each other.  Each conversation, each emotion, each interaction and loving look and hinted animosity ring true.  All of these actors bring depth and warmth to their characters, painting these people as real people with high emotions, even if they live frivolous lives and overly obsess the the PTA fundraiser.

Another surprise for me is just how funny this show is.  It is hilarious.  Yes it is first and foremost a drama about these character’s interpersonal relationships and hidden truths and secrets, especially between best friends who struggle to find their own identity.  But it is undeniably funny as it satirizes the rich lifestyle in Monterey.  From Witherspoon’s Mackenzie’s frantic and high strung muttering as she frustratingly complains to herself, to town afraid that a community theater performance of Avenue Q would be to racy and controversial that it just has to be shut down, to Dern’s drunk dancing at her little daughter’s birthday party.  The show’s writer, David E. Kelly, no stranger to comedic dramas, perfectly places the audience in the lives of these characters, making them feel human, but never afraid to mock or criticize them, often in hilarious ways.

Although I am familiar with Kelly’s previous work, having watch Ally McBeal and Boston Legal when I was in middle school and high school, I still have yet to watch Wild or Dallas Buyer’s Club, both directed by Big Little Lies helmer, Jean-Marc Vallee.  As the director of all seven episodes of Big Little Lies, the style, feel, look, and rhythm of the show is consistent from hour to hour.  And the rhythm of the show is what stood out to me the most.

It is often said that a good editor won’t make you feel the edits of a film or a show.  In other words, the best editors are those who are quiet and effective, seamlessly transitioning the story and characters forward.  Big Little Lies  then is a masterclass in editing.  From quick flashback cuts, to smash cuts, to sonic transitions, this show has it all, and it all fits perfectly together.  The editing keeps this dense tale on a constant track forward, always briefly hinting at characters’ pasts and dreams.  The editing team of David Berman, Maxime Lahaie-Denis, Sylvian Lebel, Justin Lachance, Veronique Barbe, and Jim Vega have done an incredible job and should be commended.  Another time I exclaimed aloud was during one particular edit, as the show smash cuts to a gun, with a L-sound cut still looming in the background.  It is fantastic stuff.

I don’t want to discuss too much more about the show.  Even though it ended a couple weeks ago, I urge people who are interested in superficially salacious gossipy shows that are more than meets the eye to check out this show.  This show, which has the makings of a soapy drama, elevates itself to smart writing, award worthy editing, stylish directing, and characters you care about.  It is difficult to say any more without spoiling the fun of the show, as it is one that is full of surprises, as it rightly focuses on those surprises found in the characters, rather than the murder driven teases.  Go check it out.

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