Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mildred Pierce

HBO aired its miniseries, "Mildred Pierce," over the past few weeks.

A five-part miniseries with Parts 1 and 2 aired together, Part 3 the week after, and then Parts 4 and 5 aired together. I think it was a total of six hours.

It felt like a total of about 15 hours, let me tell you. HBO has a reputation of having high standards and great quality, and I generally agree. "Sex and the City," before its sad decline into two farcical films, was a great show. "The Sopranos," "Boardwalk Empire"- all good shows, with great production value and generally very thoughtful scripts.

"Mildred Pierce" is, of course, a book by James M. Cain. That book was made into a 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford in the role of Mildred, which won her the Oscar.

Kate Winslet had some big shoes to fill. To play the same role as Joan Crawford ... and to play a role that has already won an Oscar? That's no easy task.

The filmmakers behind the HBO miniseries always said that they would stick closer to the book than to the 1945 film. As I've never read the book or seen the movie, I figured that this would be a good introduction to "Mildred Pierce," right? And I could watch the movie someday, knowing that it was made in the 40's and that it wouldn't be just like the miniseries.
It was a good, solid plan. Except for the fact that I never took into consideration that I would not enjoy this miniseries. Frankly, the only actor that I even marginally bought was Guy Pearce, who seemed to really sink into and relish his role as Monty Beragon, polo player and playboy.

While both Kate Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood were beautiful and physically well-suited to their roles, they both seemed somewhat stiff and had weird voices. It's like they were trying to find that 1930's inflection and enunciation, but it ended up sounding like two Belgians were trying to speak Southern English. It was bizarre. If Guy Pearce, Australian extraordinaire, can sound like a pitch perfect 1930's snob, then why can't Kate Winslet, divine Englishwoman? Or, worse still, Evan Rachel Wood, who's American?

Those accents distracted me at every turn. And I knew that the plot was slow / non-existent / not interesting me when I realized that I wasn't pausing before getting up to get a glass of water. The clothes, the scenery, the interior design all interested me more than what was "happening" with the characters.

I say "happening" because not much happens. Though I've never read the book or watched the film, I found that it was a predictable, boring plot. It's the plot that a lot of Korean dramas use, but much faster. Is there a reason that this rather simple tale was told over so many hours?

I sound crabby, but it's because it was so long. Time is precious while I'm trying to finish up a movie, and this felt like a colossal waste of time. It it was a TV movie, clocking in around two hours, I think I would've liked it. The pace would have been faster, it would still have stayed visually interesting, but the plot would have actually moved at a discernible speed.

Despite it all, I could see how this story would make a great book. Emotions don't come across as well on screen, no matter how amazing the actor or cinematographer.

I'll probably watch the Joan Crawford version, but I'm more interested in the book at this point. And I'm not going to be watching any more miniseries until I'm done with this movie, when I have lots of time.