Some major stars have aligned to bring Australian writer Liane Moriarty’s bestselling novel Big Little Lies to life on HBO: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgard and Adam Scott have all joined forces to tell the story of five drastically different women living in the small, wealthy beach town of Monterey, CA, where everyone thinks they knows everyone’s business.
In this bleak mystery of marriage, parenting, deception and murder, Madeline Martha McKenzie (Witherspoon) is the more or less the head hen in the coop. Madeline is a stay-at-home mom with a part time job putting on productions at the community theater. She talks a mile a minute and stands up for what she believes is right with no fear or intention of backing down; she makes me think this is what Elle Woods would’ve turned into if she hadn’t attended law school. Her marriage to Ed (Scott) is rocky at times but seems normal enough as they try to raise a teenage daughter from Madeline’s previous marriage to Nate (James Tupper) — who is now married to Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), a free-loving, easygoing Yoga and fitness instructor with a knack for getting under Madeline’s skin — and a first-grader from her current one. She’s best friends with Celeste Wright (Kidman), who was a successful lawyer in a previous life but gave all that up for her short-tempered husband, Perry (Skarsgard), and their twin boys.
Jane Chapman (Woodley) is the unknown variable in the community, who is quickly befriended by Celeste and Madeline when they meet at their kids’ orientation day at school. Jane is the only one unmarried and not wealthy but is struggling with her demons and secrets behind closed doors just like her new friends.
The story we follow is shoved into motion when Jane’s son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) is accused of choking Amabella (Ivy George), the daughter of Renata (Laura Dern) and Gordon Klein (Jeffrey Nordling), a very successful business couple. Madeline takes it upon herself to make it a personal mission to protect Ziggy and Jane from ridicule from the other parents, especially Renata.
It’s the pettiness and cattiness between these moms that makes the show addicting, sort of in a Real Housewives way. Ever so often we’re reminded by flash-forward interviews with supporting community members that we’re actually watching a murder mystery, slowly chugging towards the night the fatal events occurred. By episode 5, very little ground has been gained on who the victim and suspect might be, though, each woman has given us their motive and their target. Nevertheless, this cluster of some of the brightest stars in Hollywood light up the screen and perform variations of characters we’ve seen them in before — Witherspoon as the outspoken, determined, friendly type, Kidman as the tortured suburban wife, Woodley as the mysterious fighter, Skarsgard as aggressive and hot-headed — but it works perfectly in time with writer David E. Kelley’s (The Practice, Ally McBeal) adaptation of Moriarty’s novel with Jean-Marc Vallee’s (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club) vision.
Don’t miss the premiere of Big Little Lies premieres on February 19 at 9pm ET during Sling’s four-day free preview of HBO.