On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies and shows on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: MILDRED PIERCE (HBO).
NO JOAN CRAWFORD (THAT’S NOT A BAD THING!)
Ok, there is no way to completely avoid it, so I’m just going to go there. There is nothing, NOTHING, that can compare to Joan Crawford’s Academy Award winning performance as Mildred Pierce. It is an iconic screen performance. That being said, this is NOT a remake of the 1945 film of the same name. Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) went back to the James M. Cain novel to take a deeper look at Mildred and her life.
The Joan Crawford Mildred is highly driven, with an iron will and determination. That she will succeed is a foregone conclusion. She will not accept defeat. Her daughter Veda is a bad seed from the start with no redeeming qualities. The film is shot in noir hues with tough dialogue to match. The Todd Haynes’ version could never be considered film noir.
In Todd Haynes’ version, everything is infused with a soft, Southern California light. Everything is warm and creamy. This Mildred (Kate Winslet) is not a dynamo, taking charge of her life, so much as a really good woman who tries to make the best of her situation through pluck and luck.
Todd Haynes, Kate Winslet / Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Crawford’s Mildred Pierce would never let anything short of murder get her down, but Winslet’s Mildred has to work really, really hard to keep going in the face of adversity. She is not naturally a fighter. She seems to let life happen to her. Her marriage to the depressed Bert ends because she doesn’t seem to have the energy to fight for it. It is obvious that he doesn’t really want to leave, but she just can’t get up the gumption to hang onto him when his attention wanders.
Neither is this Mildred all sharp, shoulder-padded corners and defined brows. Haynes has Winslet dressed and coiffed dowdily. It must take a lot of work to make the usually luminous Winslet seem plain. Along with her less than glamorous appearance, Winslet pitches her lovely voice so low, and speaks so slowly, with such a flat Californian accent, that it is a little difficult to believe playboy Monty Beragon (Guy Pearce, fetchingly callow) would find her so appealing at first. But their chemistry when they run off to Santa Barbara for the day is so electric; you wonder why they haven’t been paired up before. They are very hot together! Leo di who?
Kate Winslet, Guy Pierce / Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Having the luxury of a mini-series gives lesser characters time for development. However, other than the daughters, Bert and Monty, no one else is really fleshed out into full characters. Melissa Leo gets to give little more than the same supportive men-suck, but you can succeed pep talk, Mare Winningham is the efficient friend, James Le Gros is the friend/business partner with benefits in the beginning, but we never find out how he feels about the lack of benefits when another man comes along. Hope Davis gets a few good moments as a snooty rich bitch, and other fine actors, such as Miriam Shor are treated like glorified extras.
Much time is spent on the death of Mildred’s younger daughter and the opening of her first restaurant, which is great because not only does it give Winslet an opportunity to really show off her acting chops, going from devastated to hopeful to frustrated to happy to devastated, but it also gives the character of Veda a chance to show that she is not just an evil seed.
We get to see where the hate in her love/hate relationship with her mother starts to develop. Not that anything justifies her behavior, but at least we see where her personality meets the frustration that turns her into the using manipulator she becomes. Evan Rachel Wood is cooly cruel as the insatiable Veda who expects only the best from life and will do anything to get it.
Evan Rachel Wood, Kate Winslet / Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Todd Haynes’ loving attention to detail really shines. The period is well represented in Mildred’s Chicken and Waffle café, as it is throughout the mini-series. (Although didn’t anyone not wash their car? I can’t believe no car was touched by dust in the depression!) Despite the unnatural cleanliness of the cars, the period ambience is excellent not only visually, but with the moody and evocative score and period music. Haynes’ camera lovingly lingers on each scene, sometimes just a little too long.
The stately pace never seems to gather quite enough steam. Even near the end when Mildred is about to find out just how awful her daughter can be, there isn’t enough sense of urgency in the moment. So when the drama finally explodes, it’s more of a slow motion crash than a searing, white-hot blast.
Kate Winslet / Mildred Pierce (HBO)
However, it’s wonderful to see the original material of James M. Cain’s novel re-explored, giving a much deeper portrait of a woman than the 1945 film version does. And if some of the other actors get short shrift, well, that just means more camera time on Kate Winslet, and that is always good thing.
- Jean Tait
Jean Tait is a contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. Currently the Director of Programming for the Connecticut Film Festival, Jean has programmed for the Jacksonville Film Festival and Sundance Channel.
Mildred Pierce premieres March 27 on HBO. Look for it soon on HBO On Demand.
Check out previous reviews by Jean Tait:
Pee-Wee Herman Show On Broadway - HBO
Craig Ferguson - Epix
Funny or Die - HBO
An Idiot Abroad - Science Channel
The Ricky Gervais Show
Big Love's Final Season
Eddie Izzard at MSG
Matt LeBlanc's Episodes