Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mildred Pierce: A Mother Guilt Horror Story

Has everyone been watching Mildred Pierce on HBO? Three one hour episodes have aired (Sunday nights at 9pm) and I have watched and re-watched them all with great trepidation. From the opening notes of the dreamy, dirge-like score, to the meticulous casting and attention to period detail (Los Angeles, circa 1920's and 30's), it is another HBO masterwork. But it is also dark, depressing and humorless. Even the obligatory HBO sex scenes are perilous and filled with dread. Unlike the original, for which Joan Crawford won a Best Actress Oscar, this version is more horror show than melodrama.

Plenty of spoilers to follow, so if you have not watched yet, you may want to come back later. Going into the series, I had hoped that they'd give it a modernist sensibility, and at least let us feel some satisfaction for Mildred's empire restaurant building career. For a woman to become an entrepreneur in the early part of the 20th Century was an astonishing achievement. But the focus is entirely on the misery of Mildred's life. The awful cheating ex-husband...the death of a darling child...the rotten deadbeat loaf of a boyfriend (Guy Pearce-playing an upper crust n'er do well wonderfully, once again). All of the elements of Mildred's life drain the joy from her accomplishments, and the color from actress Kate Winslet's face, as she looks alarmingly pale and exhausted in nearly every scene. No trauma in poor Mildred's life can compare to the horror of her psychopathic daughter Veda. I am actually terrified of young Veda (Morgan Turner), although she brings a prickly sense of electricity to every scene she's in. She is a relentless villain, devious and mean as a snake. Mildred, working herself to death in her new chicken and waffle restaurant, is blind to it all. This is the ultimate tale of mother guilt and devotion.

Don't watch Mildred Pierce if you've had a bad day, as it is darker than the inside of a Taliban chief's heart. Do watch it if you crave excellent television where every scene looks like an Edward Hopper painting. Warning: this mini-series will make you crave home made pie.


Scott said...

Harry & I put off watching it when we missed the first one. We planned on doing it "on demand" but then got hooked by The Kennedys and put MP on hold. I'm not going to read further for fear of spoilers! Will weigh in, in a few days after viewing it.

Lisa said...

I got behind on MP this week because of uncharacteristic limited TV viewing, but I will catch up at my first opportunity.

Seems a bit like the stretched-out schedule might have diminished the impact of the mini, overall. It's not a series, it's a mini, but over three weeks is a spreading it a little thin. Something so nuanced like this and so personal is hard to sustain and even promote over a longer haul. But this is the performance to beat -- Winslet's -- this year and she is superb, as is everybody in it.

Can't wait to really dive back in and absorb it all ASAP!!

Jane said...

Lisa, you're absolutely correct. One hour once a week is not enough. They should have at least ran episodes in two hour increments on Sunday nights. I sort of want to wait until it's over and watch the entire thing at once on Demand. Scott, that's what you and Harry should do!

Juanita's Journal said...

I went ahead and watched "MILDRED PIERCE" anyway. It is first-class. I don't know why you thought it was going to be a celebration of feminist achievements. If you had seen the 1945 movie or read the novel, surely you would have known what it was about.

Mildred, working herself to death in her new chicken and waffle restaurant, is blind to it all. This is the ultimate tale of mother guilt and devotion.

I don't recall Mildred feeling any guilt over Veda. In her own narcissist way, she saw Veda as an extension of herelf and a means to achieve class ascension. Which is why she was so "devoted" to her daughter.