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Big Little Lies (2017) | Review

By Susanna Lehtonen

Rating: 5/5



Content warning: this article mentions sexual assault

Though a fair number of record-breaking blockbuster films and shows have come out in the past few years, I’d like to travel back to 2017 to review a show that somehow didn’t appear on my radar until this year. After finishing both seasons of HBO’s Big Little Lies—and picking my jaw off the floor—I knew I had to write about it; partly to dissect and appreciate the intricacies of the show’s story and characters, partly to gush about the lasting impression it left on me.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Set in Monterey, California, Big Little Lies tells a dark story about five women, the secrets they keep and the lies they choose to tell each other. They do what they can to survive in a community where a life of perfection is not an expectation, but a requirement. There’s Madeline, a high-strung mother struggling to maintain a trusting relationship with her teenage daughter Abigail and suffering in a rather passionless marriage to her husband Ed. Then there's Renata, a career woman and an overbearing mother with a less-than-involved husband. Bonnie is young and beautiful with a calm exterior but a tumultuous childhood while Celeste, a seemingly faultless woman revered by others, is stuck in a toxic pattern of passion and abuse with her husband Perry. Finally, there’s Jane, a single mother trying to raise her son while processing her trauma after being raped. The series explores all the events that eventually lead to a murder and, in the second season, the aftermath. The Monterey Five, as the women become known as, guard the truth of what truly happened that night.


What unites the Monterey Five is the fact that they are more than what they present to each other, their husbands, and even their children. All five women seem to be a part of a meticulously crafted play, where every line is carefully thought out and any deviation from the script and their role is not tolerated. Everything is carefully contained within the glamorous mansions of each character, which often have huge windows overlooking the ocean. In his article People in Glass Houses: Big Little Lies on the Small Screen David E. Richard points out that the cinematography of the show allows the viewer to peer through these windows, making the characters appear trapped by their lies in beautiful glass cages. Even the setting serves to highlight the show's theme that you can never judge a book by its cover. While the opening of the series presents sprawling cliffs and glimmering California sunshine, with all the residents so rich they could never want anything more from life, the illusion of perfection is quickly broken as we are given a true insight into the characters’ lives.


Though the writing and cinematography of Big Little Lies is incredibly well done, for me it was the acting that truly brought the show to an exceptional level. The truly talented cast brought the characters and their traumas so alive that I sometimes forgot it was fiction. Nicole Kidman’s performance as Celeste was some of the best acting I’ve seen in a while and a highlight of the show. Celeste’s struggle to present an illusion of a perfect marriage to her two sons and her friends while enduring and, at times, crumbling under the constant abuse by Perry kept me at the edge of my seat. For me, her performance was augmented by the introduction of Perry’s mother Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), who steps in to ‘help’ Celeste with her children. The best way to describe Mary Louise is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing; though she seems like an unassuming grandmother, her constant moralising remarks to Celeste point towards her true devious nature.


Nothing in Big Little Lies is how it seems, which is exactly what makes the show so alluring to watch. The carefully constructed facade crumbles little by little with every interaction the characters have in a way where not a minute of any episode is wasted. So, if you’ve run out of things to watch, I cannot recommend Big Little Lies enough.

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