TV Wednesday - Olive Kitteridge - Episode 4
For April 2019, I will be watching Olive Kitteridge, directed by Lisa Cholodenko, whose work I have always admired if not loved.
This episode made me realize how isolated a bubble Olive’s town is. We see nary a modern-looking car or any sort of technology, which would date this work. When we see Olive in New York, a modern, recognizable one, it becomes clear just how out of place Olive is. Her surroundings and the small, parochial neighborhood she lives in really fostered her own prickly attitude and tendency for antisocialism.
I loved how both the screenwriter Jane Anderson and director Cholodenko made it clear that we are not to immediately sympathize with either Olive or her son and his family. Olive is immediately out of step with her son’s modern, unconventional family. His wife, Ann, has had two children from previous relationships, and she drinks in front of them. We see that Olive has been somewhat humbled by her husband’s illness and is trying very hard to be a kinder, gentler presence. The fact that she doesn’t immediately lash out at her son and his wife is already a sign of great progress. Perhaps if I were older and a parent, I would judge Ann more harshly, but I also know that it’s not anyone’s place to judge how someone is raising a family, and the film makes this clear as well, choosing to focus much more on Olive’s discomfort rather than passing judgment on any of the characters.
I don’t know how I feel about the late romance with Bill Murray’s character. It felt a little bit of an insult to her years with Henry, though that was far from a perfect relationship. Murray does a fine job as the prickly, snide but resigned former professor who sees a similarly prickly kindred spirit in Olive. But then the series kind of ends. It kind of had to, or else this show would never have ended, but I didn’t feel it ended with the strongest of resolutions.
This series is probably one of the best modern dramas focusing on an ordinary, modern woman that I have ever seen. It features one of the best performances I have seen from Frances McDormand in a long time (though she is always good). She finds so many nuances in a character that could have been a broad stereotype, and her portrayal, along with the judicious adaptation by Anderson and Cholodenko’s careful, precise direction, make for a story epic in feel if not in story. I would have liked to see the other characters get similarly deep arcs, but focusing mostly on Olive was a good call, since the relatively narrow focus makes the events in Olive’s life land that much harder.