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Thursday, December 6, 2012

MILDRED PIERCE (2011)

This five-part HBO mini-series of the James Cain novel looks to the book, rather than the old Michael Curtiz/Joan Crawford classic noir for its source material. No murder-mystery in this one, no police detectives, no flashback structure, instead writer/director Todd Haynes brings in his thoughtful style of suburban melodrama and the same smoldering, sensual pace he used in FAR FROM HEAVEN/’02, his shot at ‘50s domestic melodrama, a la Douglas Sirk. And, for about half its running length, it all comes together as neatly as one of Mildred’s famous pie crusts. The 1930s-era production values are particularly well observed (great period clothes!) as Mildred (Kate Winslet) watches a husband, lovers & friends, even her daughters leave for various reasons. Clinging blindly to the restaurant business she at first stumbled into, along with a pathologically self-centered child & a scapegrace lover, Mildred is continually blind-sided by life’s turns even when looking straight at them. But while Mildred may not see what’s coming, the film isn’t nearly so lucky, going wildly off-course right before our eyes at midpoint. Maybe the filmmakers were too faithful to Cain, a writer unable to resist a double-twist surprise even when it pulls his characters & plot out of whack or serves up unintentional giggles. Perhaps the jolt comes when Evan Rachel Wood replaces Samantha Morgan as the growing Veda, and this selfish, self-dramatizing child makes a switch from piano prodigy to coloratura soprano, learning half the available repertoire & all the technique in a matter of months. Or is it just that Haynes thinks he’s being serious about Pop Culture when he's really just turning ponderous? Hollywood once knew better. Speed past the dramatic deadwood, or cut it out. Don’t worry the absurdities. And, when needed, toss in a murder or two. It comes with the meal.

DOUBLE-BILL: At one-third the length, the original MILDRED PIERCE/’45 (see below) gave Joan Crawford her Oscar®, and, even better, gives us Eve Arden, cracking wise on the side.

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