Back in July 2016 my friend Stephanie (who is an author and screenwriter) recommended I read Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies. I devoured it (read that book review here) and couldn't wait for the HBO limited series to debut. At the time I was reading the book, the series had already been cast, but I tried not to read anything about production until I was finished with the book.
For those who aren't familiar, the story centers around three mothers who all have children in the same kindergarten class - Madeline, Celeste and Jane. The book takes place in a seaside town in Australia. For the HBO series, they bumped the kids up to first grade and they changed the location to Monterey, California.
The way the series is shot, the town of Monterey - the windy roads, the picturesque bridges and the churning, wave-crashing ocean - plays a critical role in the show, much the way New York City was integral to Sex and the City. The beach almost felt like another central character.
Reese Witherspoon (an executive producer on the series) plays Madeline, the uptight, queen bee of the PTA. When I first learned Witherspoon was taking on this role, I was annoyed. I was worried she would bring too much Tracy Flick to the character (her famous alter ego in Election). I am pleased to report she was excellent. She had just the right amount of compassion and loyalty, mixed with a dash of psycho grudge-holding.
Madeline's ex-husband Nathan is played by James Tupper, who I can only picture as Emily Thorne's father on Revenge. His new wife, Bonnie, is brought to life by Zoe Kravitz's (yes, Lenny Kravitz's daughter) which is beyond perfect casting.
In present day, Madeline is married to Ed, played by Adam Scott from Parks and Recreation. I don't remember feeling this way while reading the book, but Madeline and Ed's marriage is a sad one. A relationship devoid of passion. It was uncomfortable watching them try to get on the same page emotionally and physically.
Another member of the trio, Celeste, is played by Nicole Kidman (also an executive producer for the series). Celeste, according to the book, is a head-turning, jaw-dropping beauty. While Kidman did look stunning in every scene, particularly two scenes where she was wearing floor-length gowns, she wasn't what I pictured while reading the book. Her husband on the other hand, Perry, turned out to be exactly what I had imagined.
Alexander Skarsgard (who will always be Eric from True Blood to me) breathes life into Perry, Celeste's abusive husband. His scenes brought me back to all the moments in the book where my heart raced, thinking he would raise a hand (or worse) to Celeste.
The last mother of the three, Jane, is played by Shailene Woodley. When I first heard she got this part, I was skeptical. She felt so much younger than the other two actresses (though Jane is younger than all the other mothers in the book too). In the end, I thought she did it justice, though I wish they had given more screen time to her budding romance with coffee shop owner, Tom.
The screenplay was adapted for television by David E. Kelley, who is also the co-creator of Goliath, which I just watched on Amazon. Like Shonda Rhimes, he has a knack for the dark and twisty characters.
The cinematography in the series was gorgeous - the landscape shots of Monterey, the luxury homes, the fashion and the constant blue / green hue giving that waterfront tint to each and every scene.
If you are on the fence about watching the series, it's definitely worth it, whether you've read the book or not. It's only seven episodes, each one hour long. You can binge the entire series on HBO on demand or HBO Go.
After I watched the finale, I fell down a rabbit hole of recaps. Here are the three best articles I found if you want more Big Little Lies:
- Why Big Little Lies' 2 Huge Changes From The Book Matter (Refinery29)
- The Cathartic Finale of Big Little Lies (The New Yorker)
- Which Big Little Lies Mom Are You Most Like? (Buzzfeed)