Mildred Pierce

Dir: Todd Haynes, 2011. Starring: Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood. Drama.
Mildred Pierce
When it comes to reinterpreting a classic Joan Crawford movie involving murder I just think—why mess with success? Todd Haynes has made a career out of deconstructing his campy pop cultural obsessions for his own films with pretty mixed results. Whether he’s aping Douglas Sirk, badly, as in the highly overrated Far From Heaven or making David Bowie and glam rock seem about as sexy and exotic as a night out with Adam Lambert (the atrocious Velvet Goldmine) he doesn’t pay homage to his influences and radically reinterpret their art so much as apply some critical theory ideas, slow everything down, and just kind of ruin what makes them fun in the first place. It has always been my suspicion that Haynes is rewarded more for his good taste than his skills as a filmmaker. He spends too much time focusing on things like “post-structuralism” and “the male gaze” when maybe he should think about things like “narrative cohesion” and “three dimensional characters.”

When the HBO mini-series of Mildred Pierce was announced I figured it would be lame. Haynes was going to take one of the great American novels of the WW2 era (which had already been turned into an immortal film in 1945) and do his graduate school thesis thing and, I figured, just flat out ruin it. The first reports about the project were not encouraging. It was going to be a 5-part miniseries, he was getting rid of the crime element (unique to the movie version), and it was going to star Kate Winslet—a good actress, admittedly, but wouldn’t it have been more inspired to get someone kind of nuts like Lara Flynn Boyle for instance? That would have been fun. Once again I figured Todd Haynes was going to needlessly cool down a prime slab of overheated melodrama into something “respectable.” But then I watched it and *shocker* but it was actually really good.

Haynes wisely decided to adapt the novel instead of trying to remake the film. Kate Winslet has the chops to take on the epic role of Mildred, Depression-era Los Angeles housewife with a cheating husband and a rotten daughter whom she worships enough to wreck her life over. Haynes uses the story to flesh out some astute observations about the way that money has an insidious and decisive role to play in the most intimate relationships a person can have. The miniseries really comes together in the last two parts which mostly chart the rise of Veda Pierce, worst daughter of all time (Evan Rachel Wood digs into the part with relish), as she pursues a singing career. Mildred, with the best of intentions, ensures their mutual destruction with her suffocating need to be loved and her inability to recognize that her daughter is pure evil. Taken on its own, this Mildred is a fine piece of work.
Posted by:
Matt Messbarger
Jan 27, 2012 6:01pm
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