Filming an adaptation of Big Little Lies could have gone wrong on so many levels. It's a book about relationships, about the stresses of suburban life, about the frailties and mistakes people make- and how those mistakes can affect others. It's also a look at female friendship and how so many things can go wrong in what might seem to be a perfect life. The characters are outstanding- you have to get the casting right, you have to capture a certain feel- and the final episode of HBO's adaptation proved they were up to the challenge. This post will contain spoilers for the final episode.
First of all the casting of Reese Witherspoon was phenomenal. Between her, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley I'm not sure you could get a better ensemble to represent Madeline, Celeste and Jane. In fact the casting was superb all the way down the line. And while they did take some liberties with the story, they mostly worked. The biggest change of course was venue- from suburban Australia to Monterey. But that even worked, and that's where the direction comes in. Having the same director for all seven episodes lent this show a continuity that otherwise it may have lacked. It would be interesting to see on a binge watch how the episodes would flow together- I suspect it would work well.
This episode was all about trivia night. We know right from the beginning that someone died on trivia night- but we don't know who, or why. Unless you've read the book, of course. But would they keep it the same? Well yes they did- although they changed it up a bit as to how it got there. I thought it mostly worked- we got to see trivia night in all its glory, with an Elvis- themed talent show and burning torches and the whole nine yards. Quite a trivia night! Everything laid as groundwork over the previous episodes seemed to play a role in the evening- Madeline's affair, Celeste leaving Perry, the friction between Nathan and Ed. I thought the director did a fabulous job interweaving the strands all together to make it come out just right.
Some of the questions here- who was hurting Amabelle? And who raped Jane? were answered, and we did finally see at the end who died. I thought that scene was done so well- you have the women talking- Jane consoling a distraught Madeline, Renata apologizing to Jane, Celeste fleeing from her husband- and Bonnie noticing Perry stalking off. Curious, and seeing that he was being rough to his wife, she follows- and a good thing she did. When it all goes down the four women on the balcony were in a tough spot- and Bonnie charges in, pushing Perry off the balcony. This is what the whole show is about- they have to get this right, or the rest doesn't matter. And they did.
I remember after I read the book how the women stuck together- it's like a fist pumping moment. Forgetting their petty jealousies and grievances they band together to protect each other and in the process forge a powerful bond. Seeing Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Renata and Bonnie together on the beach at the end, sad but powerful- and moving on- was a moment worthy of the book. They nailed the landing, so to speak. The moment when Jane realized- and Madeline looked at her- was so well done.
"Never had a trivia night end in bloodshed before," courtesy of the principal. No I imagine not.
I thought they were playing up the affair angle a bit much, with all the sidelong looks at trivia night- but it worked to get Madeline away from the party and set the scene, I guess.
"Are you having your period?" asks Chloe to Madeline.
"You're straight?" Jane asks Tom after he finally admits he's interested. Madeline after all had told her Tom was gay. "What?" replies Tom- clearly confused.
"The dress was inappropriate. And desperate if you ask me," says one of the other mothers helpfully, after praising it to Madeline's face.
"I would have told him to go fuck himself. But I don't talk like that," Madeline says after Gordon Klein harasses Jane.
"Knowing what I know now, I'm surprised there wasn't more carnage at trivia night," another helpful parent offers.