If nothing else, Big Little Lies is the televised second coming of Reese Witherspoon. Now a bona fide movie star who doesn’t always get or even go for her due, Witherspoon shines on HBO’s Lies, based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, and critics have noticed.
While the show itself has garnered mix reviews for dramatic tropes and stock characters and not-unwelcome scenic pornography, the performances, and Witherspoon’s in particular, are as mesmerizing as their Monterey backdrop.
With one of many references to Witherspoon’s perfect Election character Tracy Flick, The Atlantic notes that “Witherspoon excels as Madeline, finding the sympathetic side of a character who could easily be a monster in the hands of a less adept performer.” In a Slate review framed entirely around Witherspoon and her career, Willa Paskin describes Flick as Witherspoon’s “personal Batman suit” and “a superpower she refuses to deploy” until now.
CNN describes Big Little Lies as a “more leisurely paced, soap-opera version of True Detective,” adding that Witherspoon “really stands out, playing a character reminiscent of what her Legally Blonde alter ego might have grown up to be, albeit with a nasty divorce and lots of resentment baked in.”
“Witherspoon is marvelous in a rare role that allows for comedy and drama,” adds Entertainment Weekly before deftly referencing Elle Woods and Tracy Flick in the same sentence. “She flails for significance through her kids and grudges against a hard-charging working mom (a sparky Laura Dern) and her ex-husbands new wife, a neo-hippie yoga instructor (Zo Kravitz).”
Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson highlights Witherspoon’s reunion with director Jean-Marc Valle as a triumph for both parties:
Witherspoon has a worldly weariness to her now, which gives her tightly wound intensity new forcethe weight of experience only makes her more powerful. Its not all suburban-mom rages for Madeline, though. Shes also kind, sorrowful, transgressive. Its a complex character, and Witherspoons is a truly full-bodied performance. Between this and Wild, Witherspoon and Valle have a good thing going. They should stick with one another.
So in the name of all things Reese and Tracy, check out Big Little Lies on HBO.