Why Everybody's Talking About Big Little Lies

The new Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley drama is completely addictive

Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies. Picture / Supplied

Three seemingly perfect mothers. An upmarket coastal community. A murder. Big Little Lies is the seven-part series based on Liane Moriarty's bestselling novel that has TV viewers and book-lovers frothing with excitement. Here’s why you need to tune in this Sunday on SoHo, 8.30pm. It will also be available from Monday morning on Neon. 

Reese is in it
Y’all know who we’re talking about. Ms Witherspoon hasn’t been shy about showing her love for New Zealand (and New Zealand fashion) while here to film Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, and it’s not hard to reciprocate. As the fiercely loyal, uptight Madeline, she’s the most likely to speak her mind and follow her impulses. It takes an episode or two to warm to her brusque manner but soon she’ll be your favourite character. She plays a grown-up Elle Woods (her character in Legally Blonde) who has remarried and now finds herself raising a surly teenaged daughter, her ex living nearby with his hot, young yoga-teacher wife (Zoe Kravitz). Reese isn’t the only big star taking to the small screen. Nicole Kidman plays Celeste, the impossibly beautiful and fashionably dressed former lawyer-turned housewife harbouring a dirty home secret; Shailene Woodley plays outlier Jane, a single mother trying to escape her disturbing past; and Laura Dern is the grating alpha career woman Renata, the kind of person you avoid at school pick-up. The men are well cast too, with Adam Scott as Madeline’s second husband Ed, Alexander Skarsgaard as Perry and James Tupper as Nathan.

The script is sassy as hell
Moriarty’s book tantalisingly dripfed information, the murder hanging over each chapter until the explosive finale. Likewise, screenwriter David E. Kelley, the man behind some of Hollywood’s most popular hit shows (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal) never lets the grimness of the crime drag things down, simultaneously pushing each of the characters to the brink so anyone of them could be capable of the worst. Part of the fun is the snide social commentary, as the other parents chip in with their gossipy two cents during the police investigation — one of Jane’s detractors describes her as “an old, dirty Prius parked outside of Barney’s”. On the first day of school, Renata accuses Jane’s son Ziggy of hurting her daughter Amabella, and from there the battle lines are drawn. Add to the tension a controversial theatre production, a lustful affair, a housewife in danger, a case of mistaken identity, a wayward teen, some seriously enviable beachfront architecture and very cute kids and you’ve got yourself a winner.

It’s as gripping as the book
The setting has changed — the show is set in Monterey, USA, rather than a coastal community in Australia — but fans of the page-turner will find themselves nodding with recognition at the dark humour, memorable characters and salacious plot. By putting the crime at the centre of the story early on, we get swept up in the rivalries straight away. In fact there’s more politicising and one-upmanship among the parents than there is on the school playground, as the mothers passive-aggressively pass judgement on one another and use their kids as social pawns. Meanwhile, director Jean-Marc Vallee, who also directed Dallas Buyers Club and Reese’s last big vehicle, Wild, brings a cinematic element to the screen, with dreamy montages of surging waves, interspersed with flashes of sex and violence. It’s telling, rather than gratuitous, subversive not sentimental. And completely addictive.

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New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

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