The series, which based on Liane Moriarty’s bestselling novel, contains a dual storyline including a dramatic narrative about the materialism and social status of the Monterey housewives and a suspenseful investigation of a murder mystery.
The series begins on the first day of school at Otter Bay Elementary. As the parents of first-grade students congregate at the campus to pick up their children, they are advised by the teacher to stay for a quick meeting. In front of both the children and parents, the teacher calls attention to an unfortunate incident that has taken place during the school day.
One of the students has choked another student, evident by bruises on the child’s neck. The teacher tells the victim to point out the choker in front of the entire crowd. The child points to the innocent new boy, who has just moved to Monterey with his mom, Jane, to start a new life.
The situation creates the initial tensions among many of the housewives, which quickly develop into a series of betrayals, conflicts and murder. As the intriguing story unfolds, the audience is exposed to the occurrences behind the closed doors of each housewife’s seemingly perfect mansion.
Big Little Lies has three strong female lead characters: Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Jane (Shailene Woodley).
Madeline is the image-obsessed socialite of Monterey. She is immediately typecasted into a static role as the materialistic villain among the other first-grade moms in this series. Madeline’s villainous character trait is repeatedly overemphasized in the script, overshadowing the positive and emotional personality traits that make up her character.
Although Witherspoon is able to deliver her lines effortlessly and depict the appropriate emotions and expressions on cue, she is unable to transform her role as Madeline into a multidimensional character. This is because of the troubled script, rather than Witherspoon’s acting.
Celeste is the reserved housewife known for having a deceivingly perfect marriage. According to Celeste’s Facebook page and her perceived appearance, she seems to have it all: She has healthy twin boys, a sexy younger husband and plenty of money. However, Celeste’s happiness and marriage is a façade: Her husband is abusive and she constantly feels trapped in her enclosed life.
Kidman took a sensitive approach when embodying the character of Celeste to create depth within her character. Kidman draws upon emotions and body language to gain sympathy from the audience regarding Celeste’s reality as a victim of domestic violence. At the same time, Kidman uses facial cues to expose Celeste’s darker side — the side that exudes power and pleasure from the gender dynamic with her husband.
Jane is Monterey’s newest housewife; she is a young single mom who has just moved from Santa Cruz in order to start a new life. The relationship that Woodley is able to convey between her character Jane and her on-screen son feels natural, authentic and true.
Woodley’s calm tone of voice, reserved body positioning and subtle facial expressions perfectly match the personality traits intended for Jane. These deliberate acting choices cast Jane as not only an outsider among her peers, but also someone who has something to hide.
Big Little Lies, HBO’s new seven-episode series will premiere on Sunday.