March 24 (Bloomberg) -- Kate Winslet slaps the Joan Crawford right out of “Mildred Pierce,” all but vanquishing memories of the classic 1945 weeper.
Under Todd Haynes’s direction and with a first-rate ensemble, Winslet bakes up a sumptuous if indulgent new HBO miniseries about the spunky 1930s housewife who becomes a restaurant tycoon while her family falls apart.
Tinting the Great Depression in an overripe palette of hunter greens, dusky golds and the odd smear of crimson, Haynes’s Technicolor vision owes less to Dust Bowl photos than to the deep-hued floral patterns of your grandmother’s frayed sofa.
Unlike Crawford’s Hollywood classic, this adaptation of the James M. Cain novel replaces noirish intrigue with a languid portrait of gentility tested by hard times.
True, at almost six hours spread over three Sundays, that’s a lot of hard times. But Haynes’s lush style and the superb Winslet keep the sacrifice onscreen.
The story begins in 1931, with a cash-strapped Mildred struggling to raise two young daughters after her husband (Brian F. O’Byrne) takes up with another woman. In an era when work outside the home is an affront to middle-class feminine dignity, Mildred’s new job as a hash-house slinger is nothing short of humiliation.
Particularly appalled is Mildred’s snobby eldest daughter Veda, played as a child by Morgan Turner and an adult by Evan Rachel Wood.
“It’s a uniform, stupid,” Veda says to Mildred after discovering the waitress uniform her embarrassed mom has carefully hidden away. “You think I’m dumb?”
Dumb, no. Venomous, definitely. Veda sneers as Mildred slaves to finance the respectability they both cherish. Before long, the pie-baking, numbers-crunching Mildred has opened a restaurant of her own, then another and another. She makes short work of the Depression, but winning over Veda won’t be so easy.
Even 1940s audiences must have doubted Veda was worth the trouble, and HBO viewers will feel the same.
Haynes, working from a script he co-wrote with Jon Raymond, knows he can’t make Veda sympathetic or even credible so he directs Turner and Wood to overplay with almost campy excess.
No Murder Mystery
Wood, in particular, gives a histrionic performance that doesn’t match the quality of her co-stars, particularly Melissa Leo as Mildred’s loyal neighbor, Mare Winningham as a hardbitten waitress and Guy Pearce as a sleazy gigolo.
Although it ditches the murder mystery plot invented for the Crawford film, the miniseries dives headlong into Cain’s soapy waters of heartbreak, duplicity, fame and fortune won and lost.
The sexual hijinks only hinted at in black and white are here made explicit, though not to say enticing: In Haynes’s socially conscious telling, Mildred’s dalliances often seem little more than commercial transactions, a means to an end. Someone has to pay for the brat’s piano lessons.
“Mildred Pierce” airs Sunday on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
Is it OK to rejoice in a failed intervention? A clean and sober Nurse Jackie would be nothing short of rock bottom for the Showtime dramedy bearing her name.
Edie Falco’s Emmy-winning performance as a pill-popping nurse is the one constant in this otherwise hit-and-miss series.
As Season Three begins, All Saints Hospital’s favorite nurse/addict strives to win back the trust of her husband (the terrific Dominic Fumusa) and best friend (Eve Best) after last season’s cliffhanger intervention.
Her affair with the hospital pharmacist (Paul Schulze) has come to an end, though deception will continue to strain her marriage, even affecting her two young daughters.
Last season’s reckoning, it seems, has done little more than make the duplicitous Jackie more cunning.
Frankly, that’s a bit of a cheat, which will surprise no one who savors this series mostly, even solely, for Falco’s brilliance. The awkward mix of her uncompromising performance, the hospital staff’s intrusive sitcom antics and scripts that never quite live up to the acting remains as tenacious as any Vicodin habit.
“Nurse Jackie” airs Monday on Showtime at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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