Top critical review
Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Men and Women who Lie About Them (some spoilers)
Reviewed in the United States on October 6, 2018
Beginning with a death, “Big Little Lies” uses the technique of spinning us initially back in time to work through all the events leading up to the big reveal of “whodunnit” (and who’s actually dead)
This is the story of a group of wealthy, white New Zealand families who all have children at the same primary school using a series of linked events and points of view that ultimately lead to a tragedy at the school’s “Trivia” night.
At times this zips along like a soapy, pastiche of life in suburbia (Bullying in school! Petitions about dumb things! Head lice!) complete with a cast of wacky, colorful desperate housewives while at other times it seems to be earnestly trying to make serious points about the ugly things that go on behind closed doors - even among families that appear to be “perfect” on the surface.
And therein lies the heart of the problem - “Big Little Lies” just can’t figure out what it wants to be and as a result the “fun” parts aren’t much fun and the “serious” parts end up with an unsettlingly smug “after school special” feel to them.
The moral at the heart of both “Big Little Lies” and “The Husbands Secret”, by the same author (which I also had problems with) is that Bad Things Happen To Bad People and Good People get magically saved at the end by giant, clunky, ridiculous plot twists - no matter what bonkers things the characters do prior to this.
For example, here we are asked to believe that Jane - a stable, intelligent young woman with a loving, supportive family - has one single night of ugly (but consensual) sex with a Very Bad Man who scares her and says mean things to her - and as a result immediately falls pregnant and instantaneously develops a crippling eating disorder and can barely function ever after. So - while we are supposed to like and sympathize with Jane - her behavior is just bananas.
Throughout the story Jane makes a pious point - multiple times- of refusing to ever seek out That Very Bad Man in any way (Not even Googling him! Gasp!) - but we are ALSO expected to believe that she interrogated him on that one night to find out where he lived (why?) and then five years later abruptly moves to the town he lives in so she can stage a big “gotcha” scene to “introduce” The Very Bad Man to a son he has no idea exists just so she can tell him the kid likes pumpkin?? (I’m not exaggerating - that’s her actual plan) MORAL: Sex with strangers will leave you bruised, damaged, crazy and pregnant ( But thin! And beautiful!) - and you will ultimately plot to use the child you adore as a revenge pawn. (What??)
Celeste is so passive that she can only be “released” from her Very Bad Man literally by death. MORAL: If you’re a fabulously rich domestic violence victim with an apartment and income -make sure you know an unstable person because you will NEVER get away otherwise.
Bonnie is so damaged by her childhood experience of domestic violence at the hands of her Very Bad Dad that she ultimately commits a horrible crime - for which she gets community service because she has PTSD. MORAL: You might escape - but you’ll be broken forever and become violent when you eventually “snap” decades later - but you won’t go to jail because you’re Nice! (Really? That’s not at ALL how PTSD - or law - works)
In an equally ridiculous sub-plot we are supposed to believe that Amnesty International would be fine with a million dollar donation generated by someone “purchasing” a 14-year old girl’s virginity from an internet site as a fundraising stunt. (I’m pretty sure the sound I heard was Amnesty’s collective heads exploding at the thought they were used in this way) MORAL: A teen who tries to sell her body on the internet as a fund-raiser is really just “misguided” because she did it for a good cause and simply convincing her to take it down is a parenting score!!! At least she’s not on drugs! (Are you kidding me? Somebody get this kid to a therapist -STAT!)
If all that wasn’t weird and unsettling enough - we end this tragedy with happy endings for everyone!! (Well... except for the corpse) And luckily - it turns out ALL men aren’t Very Bad Men - you just need to find a Very Good Man and all your problems will go away! So Jane finds a Very Good Man who isn’t gay after all (thank heavens! It was the OTHER guy who’s gay! What a wacky mix-up!) who makes her eat yummy muffins he baked himself - thereby instantly curing her eating disorder and Bonnie finds her nice, supportive husband is ... well...nice and supportive.
If you don’t have a nice man to rescue you - like Celeste you can look forward to life with an insane amount of money with a psychotic child who tortures and bullies girls including throwing them down flights of stairs (because - you know - violence against women is ... Genetic?) but that’s Ok because he’s “just acting out” and you’ll get to give inspirational speeches about how domestic violence can happen to ANYONE (cue ominous music) and that’s enough , right?