Sunday, February 12, 2012
Written by Todd Haynes and Jon Raymond
Directed by Todd Haynes
Starring Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce and Evan Rachel Wood
There are some dream projects that just make me shiver with an almost lustful anticipation. HBO’s 5-part miniseries, MILDRED PIERCE, is definitely one of these projects. James M. Cain’s 1941 novel of the same name has been interpreted on film before (in 1945, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Joan Crawford in the title role) but never has it been given this kind of honour. Directed by Todd Haynes, one of today’s most fascinating filmmakers, and starring the inimitable Kate Winslet as the 1930’s heroine, MILDRED PIERCE pays homage to Cain’s work by allowing it the time to breathe and settle into the subtle and sumptuous epic that it was always meant to be.
Mildred is a mother first, no matter how trying it is for her to fill the role. When we meet her, she is baking pies to bring in a little extra cash, now that her cheating husband (Brian F. O’Byrne) is no longer bringing home what he used to when business was booming. Shortly thereafter, she kicks him out and decides to take control of her life for her daughters, Ray and Veda (Quinn McColgan and Morgan Turner). With the classes crumbling all over Los Angeles, Mildred is desperate to maintain a certain lifestyle for her girls but to accomplish this, she must go through one obstacle after another. And some of them are pretty devastating! It is Mildred’s determination and resolve that define her though and soon she is achieving great success amidst her emotional turmoil. And it is Winslet’s extraordinary ability to oscillate almost imperceptibly between her internal and her external emotional expression that makes Mildred so captivating. You never know where she will go and what she will do next but you always know that she will be fighting fearlessly no matter what. It’s inspiring.
The MILDRED PIERCE cast is rounded out by Guy Pearce as Mildred’s playboy boyfriend, Melissa Leo as her best friend and Evan Rachel Wood as her mortal enemy, the grown version of her daughter, Veda. The mother/daughter conflict seems almost secondary at first but as it builds, and it does so with great insight and delicacy thanks to the tender hand of Todd Haynes, it becomes apparent that this relationship is the central one in Mildred’s life. It drives her to succeed at all costs but also tears her down to absolutely nothing all too often. To an outsider, many of Mildred’s actions might seem selfish but to those who know her, Mildred’s motivation is almost always for other people and more often than not, for Veda. It is a testament to Hayne’s talent as both a filmmaker and a writer that we actually come to know Mildred well enough to know this about her.