Friday, March 25th, 2011

'Mildred Pierce': Set Your DVRs on 'OMG What?'

The five-part, Todd Haynes-directed miniseries of "Mildred Pierce" starts on Sunday, at 9 p.m., on HBO. Let me just tell you the most important part right now: The first episode may not particularly make you want to carry on! You might hate it immediately. But you likely should press on: what follows is definitely more exciting and pleasurable, as the show goes on. And sometimes when you try a weird new flavor, it's disgusting at first. This flavor is decidedly off-putting or maybe just like it popped out of a time machine from when flavors were different: it's the starchy tale of a snooty lady, and from the hilariously sombre/boring/gorgeous opening credits to the extremely odd, maybe terrific, maybe not Kate Winslet performance, you may feel quite uncomfortable. Many of you will decide that this is not your cup of period-simulacra tea, and that's fine. But try it, because some of you will have your heads blown off.

So Mildred Pierce, the original text, is sort of like Raymond Chandler writing Edith Wharton? So it makes sense (and spoils nothing) to say that our heroine sobs and vomits at the prospect of becoming a waitress. The high drama of downward mobility! Which today registers a confusing note. Like, it's a recession, go sling some hash, sister!

And, I mean, we're talking about the 1930s, not the 1890s here, you know, though I guess it's good to remember that there are only 40 years between the eras of Lily Bart and Mildred Pierce. That's like the 1970s to the 2010s, which, I know that sounds really, really dumb to say, but it's important to remember that history is so compact, and ideas about class and manners and position and sex (and sex positions! Hi-o!) change quite rapidly.

Reasons to press on include: Hope Davis and Guy Pearce. Hoo boy, Emmys ahoy. Hope Davis is just the greatest thing always, and Guy Pearce looks incredible naked. And the hair on everyone is magnificent. The locations and clothes are incredible, and this must have cost a fortune.

And it feels big. And that's the issue with Her Oscar-Havingness, The Lady Kate Twinset. This is either a marvel of acting or it's… not. I really couldn't tell you. What do I know? Let's have the professionals decide and just praise her commitment. She's definitely… forceful: stomping around, looking put-upon, putting on her size-ten waitress uniform, her mouth constantly turned down. Maybe what's hard to watch is to have this weird black hole of a character at the center of the story—and she is on-screen constantly. So Winslet is seriously overclocking here. I bet when she went home for the day, steam was coming out of her ears. What's to say! I've never really "gotten" her, but I do admire her, and, you know, Heavenly Creatures, we owe her a debt for life.

Have I made this all sound terribly unappealing? It isn't. It's complicated! It's fascinating! It's something you haven't seen before. And it's definitely melodrama. But it's honest melodrama, if that's a possible thing.

21 Comments / Post A Comment

you had me at guy pearce looks great naked.

Basically I should have just probably written that, right?


IBentMyWookie (#133)

Yes, please expound.

kpants (#719)

Slightly off topic? Other times he sounds great, too.

ShanghaiLil (#260)

I would SO totally weep and vomit if I had to wait tables.

metoometoo (#230)

Me too.

VeeCee (#1,189)

yes, yes, yes to all of this, especially the part about Heavenly Creatures.

crescentmelissa (#10,702)

Heavenly Creatures = best movie ever.

laurel (#4,035)

Every so often I think, "That's so impressiiiiive!"

Jared (#1,227)

IMDb informs me that the other girl from Heavenly Creatures has a recurring role in a sitcom, with some actor who's been in the news recently for some reason (and also one-and-a-half other actors, or something). So life's not really fair.

HelloTitty (#830)

I have been soooo excited for this based on nothing more than my great love of the Joan Crawford version of this tale. I even thought that Kate Winslet was terrific casting, until I saw a preview. Then I started to worry. She might be the worst choice for this part, particularly if you are attached to the way Joan played it. Kate maybe doesn't do American parts so well? Like, she was great in The Reader and Sense and Sensibility, but just execrable in Revolutionary Road and Titanic? Thanks for the warning. I want to love this so I will persevere through doubts.

growler (#476)

She was pretty convincing as an American, and pretty great, in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," one of the best movies in the '90s.

And anyone who says otherwise about my Secret Girlfriend gets cut!

macartney (#1,889)

Eternal Sunshine most definitely was not a movie of the '90s. Try 2004.

LondonLee (#922)

Like most people I read the book after the film (which I've seen a million times and love) and was a bit let down by it. I mean, I really didn't give a shit about Vida's singing career.

Maxine (#1,795)

I did not realize 'Mildred Pierce' was based on a book which is embarrassing but there it is. I am considering reading it. Is it anyone's favorite book? Worth a read or should I just watch naked Guy Pearce?

Thanks to a friend in college that was very into noir, I've read a few James M. Cain books (Serenade, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce). In general, the movies are better than the books, especially Double Indemnity. The misogyny in Mildred Pierce and his other work isn't just a result of the era, Cain clearly had a lot of issues. On the other hand, his books are pretty quick reads and a nice example of the staccato noir style.

ogradybt (#3,914)

I'm excited about this too. Folks should go back and watch Far from Heaven, which really sealed the Todd Haynes deal for me (just knowing about Superstar went a long way in that direction as it is).

Kakapo (#2,312)

SAFE is the best American movie of the past thirty years. I am going to be watching the hell out of this.

mrschem (#1,757)


barnhouse (#1,326)

Oh boy and I heard they refused to film it in California because they couldn't find any "authentically" 30s streets that were long enough? So they went to the East Coast and it is just too hilarious how Todd Haynes studied art and semiotics at Brown AND Veda is played by that kid who broke up Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese, so it is all totally unbearable, and perfect.

HelloTitty (#830)

Speaking of authenticity, Evan Rachel Wood wore a merkin in her full-frontal scene (source). "Totally unbearable, and perfect" is absolutely correct.

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