SO, I finally got to see the much awaited, much anticipated, much salivated over > Mildred Pierce … The Christine Vachon/Todd Haynes/HBO re-make with Kate Winslet & Evan Rachel Wood in the starring roles …
One of my besties Kuntz a.k.a Brit Lauren Manor TIVO’d it so that we wouldn’t have to bare the anguish of waiting a week in between unfolding mini-series parts. We watched it straight from 8:30 p.m. – 2:30 a.m. with a couple of bathroom breaks in between. I got a $70 parking ticket. It was intense.
Unlike Brit — who was underwhelmed, I absolutely loved it. Flaws, disappointments, and all.
Let me explain. I am a Cuban-American lesbian yet again watching another film about anglo-heterosexuals writhing with self-loathing, elitism, and Ayn Rand drive during the economic & emotional depression of 1930’s America. I saw, as expected, a couple of background extras that were black & asian. Only one spoke: The African-American servant with an exaggerated yet appropriate British-ized American accent — nose in air as he bows to his master-like employer.
When watching Mildred Pierce, I expected to be re-acquainted with a culture I grew up with, but have rarely interacted with on a personal level — Really Rich White People. Strangely yet not, I’ve come to feel a familiarity with their stories. Although Jay Gatsby & Daisy Buchanan know nothing of and probably rarely thought of the minority subcultures I belong to, I have come to understand the inner monologues of their omnipresent yet exclusive lives extremely well.
The American films and books I was raised on familiarized me, connected me to the subtle yet ravaging violence of anglo-european descendent angst. Through them, I’ve learned that the privileged suffer too, and quite differently.
Keeping this in the forefront of my mind, I’ve been able to watch, reflect upon, and even love HBO’s Mildred Pierce for exactly what it was. The characters & their world — which is NOTHING like mine or that of most people I know — are valid in their own right.
Oh, Mildred! The movie has been looping in my head since last night.
Therefore, let us begin dissection …
WARNING*: The following will contain spoilers! I will not discuss every element of the film as I only want to satiate my pressing craving to gorge upon the ripe & juicy portions.
CHARACTERS & THEIR EMBODIERS:
VEDA: (Young Veda as played by the actress Morgan Turner)
I always struggle between the imperious urge to unabashedly express my honest thoughts & sentiments on a piece of art — whether it be performance, written, or visual — without judging it like a critic. Don’t get me wrong, I think critics are necessary because they exhibit a public shamelessness society needs to remember that it’s okay to voice their own brazen truths. Critics say EXACTLY what they feel and think about a piece of work usually without regard for whether their opinion will positively or negatively affect the artist(s) that put their heart into creating it. As a fellow artist, however, it’s quite excruciating to decimate, pick at the bones, of a work you really didn’t jive with. I’m ravaged by guilt and flooded with compassion because after all, as my mom says, “they did their best.” Consequently, I’ll have to preface my following review of Ms. Turner’s work, and any “judgment” I express about another artist’s creation (esp. when it’s negative) — by saying it’s MY personal opinion on the matter. I am under no delusion that my take on film, writing, art is The Objective Truth. It’s just my subjective perspective …
Turner’s performance as the snobbish and disturbed Veda proved anguishing. She butchered the complexity of an otherwise fascinating character with an over-the-top one-dimensional personification. Ice skating on the surface of her character, Turner pretended to be Veda in the way a child pretends to be an Indian when playing “Cowboys & Indians” in the elementary school yard during lunch. Turner’s performance lacked the maturity, depth, and sophistication crucial to Veda’s spirit. I imagine that innate to Veda is a demanding old soul who grows more dissatisfied and embittered with time. Her ageless personality doesn’t flourish because it’s set in stone from a very early age. Unlike her little sister Ray who innocently discovers herself along the way. I imagine Mildred & Veda’s characters / relationship much like that of the mother & daughter in The Bad Seed. Rhoda Penmark (the daughter), effortlessly brought to life by Patty McCormick, was similar to Veda in a lot of rudimentary ways. Patty McCormick would have been a much better choice for young Veda than Morgan Turner. Maybe she just needed to rehearse more? I’m not sure what the remedy would have been for such a sickly performance. I felt bad for Kate Winslet who had to pick up the slack and carry the truth of each interaction in every scene they shared. I did not believe this girl was Veda or even Mildred’s daughter, which truly annoyed & bothered me because I wanted to SO bad.
On that note, let us turn to the actress that breathed ferocious life into a flat-lining character …
VEDA: (Older Veda as played by the actress Evan Rachel Wood)
Wood’s performance as Veda was truly transformative. The film up to that point had been mainly about Mildred Pierce “trying to make it.” Their relationship seemed secondary and almost inconsequential until Evan Rachel Wood showed up. She was fierce, fabulous, and, finally, BELIEVABLE. She was so believable, in fact, that I grew feelings of sympathy and sadness towards Veda. Wood embodied Veda in physical mannerisms, voice intonation, eye communication: She did IT ALL. She skillfully communicated the complex torture an insecure, starving, yet powerful spirit undergoes when it’s rotting to death and struggling to fight it off a pitchfork. She had insuppressible chemistry with Winslet. Mildred & Veda were finally Daughter Adored & Mother Loathed.
I finally understood Veda’s revulsion with Mildred and Mildred’s obsession with Veda. I think of Mildred as Dorian Grey and Veda as the painting he hides in the closet which accrues all the ugliness he harbors inside. On the outside, Mildred seems hardworking, loving, and fair, but internally, she’s tortured by an unbearable shame she feels toward her “humble” identity and station in life.
Veda, an extension of herself, takes on all her self-loathing and her relentless drive to rise above that abhorrent feeling of worthlessness — At Whatever Cost. She’ll do anything not to be classified as “a peasant — a very ill bred person” — not to turn into her mother.
I could go on, and on, and on. What I’m trying to say is that Evan Rachel Wood as the terrifying, heartbreaking, and unreachable
Veda was truly spectacular.
MONTY BERAGON & BERT PIERCE:
Guy Pearce as selfish, charming, & degenerate loafer/lover/pedophile Monty Beragon was fantastic!!!
Bryan F. O’Byrne as the emotionally intelligent, intellectually simple, and kind-hearted dad/ex-husband Bert Pierce was the most realistic of all. I absolutely ADORED watching him. Enthralled in his silences, his sighs, his breakdowns … when he performed, I felt as though I were watching a scene in a documentary. A multi-dimensional character & actor > I was blown away by his ability to translate the curious brilliance of “regular men.” Mildred & Bert’s relationship was my most favorite > from unhappy couple, to cordial enemies, to respectful acquaintances, to unconditional best friends and life partners. I rarely see films that depict heterosexual relationships — especially between men & women from this generation — with such tenderness and frankness. Yay for Mildred & Bert!
And last, but definitely not least, Mildred Pierce. I passionately love this character: Human in all her glories and all her flaws. The mother who really truly did the best she could to give her children a better life and try to save them from want or suffering. She literally spoiled Veda rotten. Oh, Mildred! We love your heartfelt good intentions even though they often come from a place of self-loathing, fear, voracious need to love and be loved … and ultimately trap you in relationships/predicaments that bleed your self-esteem dry.
Kate Winslet as Mildred Pierce was mostly — dynamic and lovable. In the first parts (before Wood arrived as Older Veda), I felt Winslet wavered in her emotional dedication and investment to many scenes. She felt a bit repetitive at times. I think that was mostly true when she had to interact with young Veda (Turner). Winslet vibrantly came alive, however, on multifarious levels and left me captivated with jaw dropped, in scenes she shared with Bert Pierce, Monty Beragon, and Older Veda (Wood). Kate Winslet ultimately pulled it off, per the usual. A talented character actress, I could watch her in anything.
DIRECTING/CINEMATOGRAPHY/EDITING & COSTUME/MAKEUP/SET DESIGN:
Awesome!!!! Perfectly appropriate to time, place, and culture. I’d elaborate, but I’m exhausted and want to wrap up this post.
Moral of Story:
1. Mildred Pierce started the Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles chain.
2. Don’t spoil your kids or they’ll turn into Diva Monsters who hanker for fame and money like rats with rabies hunt for cheese. Oh yeah, they’ll also steal your useless alcoholic man and hate your guts forever.
3. According to Veda, Glendale is the Compton of the 1930’s and one should be ashamed of such humble beginnings?
4. Rich white people in Pasadena suck.
5. Love yourself and be proud of exactly who you are or you’ll be heartbroken your whole life.
6. Don’t have kids. They’re a total waste of time.