A few weeks back I wrote a review of Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (which you can find here) and was looking forward to watching the show Big Little Lies on HBO. To be clear, I enjoyed the show. The aesthetic was original and the acting award winning. I was excited to hear that there might be more coming (according to Reese Witherspoon’s Facebook!). But the thing I like do not make for compelling reading, and it does not fit with my view of adaptions. See, as a lover of books, I have always been a curmudgeon about adaptions. As a young adult, I spent hours frustrated when a favorite book of mine was torn to pieces by the mainstream media.
In the series, Madeline is having an affair with a man that she works with at the play house. While the drama fits nicely with the original narrative, why would a producer of a show ever ADD plot points? The production did not give enough time to existing story, so the decision to spend time on a new idea was jarring to me. It was the same way that I felt about how the show presented the birthday party where Bonnie caused a scene in. While it heightened the drama, I felt that it added unneeded spectacle to a story already fraught.
I do see the point in adding something if the intent is to flesh out an idea that is present in the source material. In this case though, I felt that this was an idea that made any contribution to the ideas presented. It instead gave more drama that took away from the existing story lines.
Inner Dialogue of the characters
Back to Madeline, as this point mostly pertains to her. In the book, Madeline is my favorite character by far because of her inner dialogue. In the book, she is infinitely more relatable as she over-reacts to the perceived injustices around her. While her actions are overblown they are explained by the rich inner world that makes up her inner dialogue. Especially in the way she interacts with her family, Madeline is a character we all know in our own lives.
The caveat to this point is that this type of inner dialogue is hard to depict in a tv format. I would have appreciated if this could have made it into the show, but there are few examples of inner dialogue in this format that are successful. In fact, one of the best example I have seen of this is in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (you can read my review of the book here). That inner dialogue focuses on flashbacks, but are key to understanding the character. That type of foresight is lacking in Big Little Lies on HBO.
The Final Scene
In the book, the final act of pushing Celeste’s husband down the stairs (off a balcony) comes after a verbal fight. In the show, I did not feel that they did as good of a job showing why Bonnie was so driven to this act. My coworkers, who have not read the book, say that they understood the depth of the emotion that she was feeling. My main qualm is that the show did not address in detail how Bonnie had been affected by this type of abuse in the past. I felt that the show would have had more impact if it has made this clearer.
The production also lost something when the ending scene of the book, was cut. The scene features Celeste is testifying against her late husband in court. The element of abuse in the show, while present and depicted well for most of the plot, fell flat at the end. The show depicted how horrifying abuse is in the moment, but did not give closure to the situation. While having the women on the beach banding together was pleasant, it minimized the actual conflict of the story. This is not only a story about women in conflict, but about how the men in their lives have put them in these situations. Reconciliation, while nice, was never the true issue among these women and is not what led to Perry’s death.
At the end of the day, I did like Big Little Lies on HBO, but I felt that a little bashing was needed. I hope you all give both the show a try and come back here for more reviews on books and their adaptions!