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TV Wednesday - Olive Kitteridge - Episode 1

For April 2019, I will be watching Olive Kitteridge, directed by Lisa Cholodenko, whose work I have always admired if not loved.

I don’t know anything about the original book by Elizabeth Strout, other than it was highly acclaimed, and I chose to keep it that way for this series. I wanted to see if I could tell that I was missing a lot by not reading the book beforehand.

As far as I could tell from this first episode, I was not. While I am not over the moon about Lisa Cholodenko’s movies, I cannot deny just how good the performances are in all of them. I still think about Patricia Clarkson’s German actress in High Life who claimed to have worked with Fassbinder and how magnetic and charming she was. I remember both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore playing so convincingly a married couple who have known each other for so long that even Moore’s cheating is dealt with in the proper emotional context in The Kids Are Alright.

All of this is to say I am stunned by how uniformly good all the performances are in this show. Obviously Frances McDormand was always going to be good. She is so fierce and funny with her withering one-liners and tough love to everyone from her husband to her son. I think if I had been much younger, I would have been terrified of her, but after having taught children for over a decade, I recognized someone who really cares underneath a tough exterior.

Frances mcdormand is so good. So fierce and funny and yet you can see the warmth. McDormand is a tremendous actor even when the material isn’t.

Richard Jenkins is the emotional focus of this episode. He plays earnest and well-intentioned even when he is totally ineffective and unhelpful, such as in the opening scene when he tries to advise a woman undergoing depression to get brighter bulbs in her house and exercise. The really sad thing (besides the depression obviously) is that he knows he can’t help this woman, and Jenkins is able to convey this with his sad-sack demeanor. He is clearly someone who wants to be loved and admired, but he doesn’t get it at home, which is why he gravitates to Zoe Kazan’s sweet and naive Denise, who is vulnerable in the way that older men would naturally gravitate towards. This could have gone in a very obvious way, but Jenkins’ Henry is devoted to his wife because deep down he knows that he needs honesty and accountability rather than uncritical adoration, which Denise could easily offer if he wanted to.

I don’t quite have a handle on Cholodenko’s style yet. There are certainly beautiful shots of nature, and even the inside of the Kitteridge’s modest house looks like an idealized memory rather than real life. While Cholodenko can certainly offer visual style, the story does not call for it, and I think she rather wanted to give her actors the space to breathe and do their job. Also, a lot of credit needs to go to Jane Anderson for being able to condense a book of short stories into compelling episodes. I am eagerly looking forward to see if this series will make a cohesive, compelling whole.

 

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