Overview: This four-hour event tells the poignantly sweet, acerbically funny and devastatingly tragic story of a seemingly placid New England town wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, told through the lens of Olive (Frances McDormand), whose wicked wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart and staunch moral center. Richard Jenkins portrays Olive’s husband, Henry.
The story, which spans 25 years, focuses on her relationships with her husband, Henry, the good-hearted and kindly town pharmacist; their son, Christopher, who resents his mother’s approach to parenting; and other members of their community.
The supporting cast features Golden Globe winner Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) as Jack Kennison, a widower befriended by Olive; John Gallagher, Jr.(HBO’s THE NEWSROOM) as Christopher, Olive and Henry’s son; Emmy nominee Peter Mullan (Top of the Lake) as Jim O’Casey, a fellow teacher at Olive’s school; Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men) as Rachel Coulson, a shut-in who is one of Henry’s customers at the pharmacy and Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) as Denise Thibodeau, who works at the pharmacy. The miniseries also co-stars Broadway’s Cory Michael Smith (Gotham) as Kevin Coulson, Olive’s former student; Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad) as Jerry McCarthy, Henry’s delivery boy; Ann Dowd (HBO’s THE LEFTOVERS) as Bonnie, a Kitteridge family friend; Brady Corbet (Martha Marcy May Marlene) as Henry Thibodeau, Denise’s first husband; Audrey Marie Anderson (The Unit) as Ann, Christopher Kitteridge’s second wife; Patricia Kalember (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) as Joyce, Christopher’s mother-in-law and Maryann Urbano (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) as Mrs. Kennison, Jack’s wife. The film is crafted by by Academy Award nominated director Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) and is based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The teleplay is by Emmy-winning Jane Anderson (HBO’s THE POSITIVELY TRUE ADVENTURES OF THE ALLEGED TEXAS CHEERLEADER-MURDERING MOM).
Expectations: The brief description used above makes this story seem quite a simple one, but at four hours HBO’s treatment of the Strout novel is bound to be rich in character and that is what draws me to it. That is one reason I listed the supporting cast in the paragraphs above. From the clips I‘ve seen I appears the whole event seems like it will be marvelously played out from McDormand’s performance to the locale. I am eager to see what director Cholodenko has done with it. Here is just one trailer:
Gut Reaction: Flat out, right out of the gate, I got to say that I am floored by OLIVE KITTRIDGE. It is almost hard to find a place to start in my opinion of this piece. I guess what is best is to address the elephant in the room – depression. It is like another solid character in this work. I know in all the previous posts that we have generated on site mention depression, but it never really sunk in how much of this story centers on it until the clips and then the miniseries revealed it. The town is depressive, the people seem lost and listless and, of course, we quickly learn that Olive is as well. Hell, she even admits that she is proud of it. You know, though, that aspect does not drag down the film at all. Yes, it talks and deals with the mental illness and shows us an example of how the illness is a struggle. Yes, the tone of those four hours, because of that issue, can seem dark, but it does not damage or pull down this tale. It makes it that more engrossing.
As palpable as that element is it is the Kitteridge family that you focus on. They are so deftly designed that it is hard not to do it. We see them age over twenty-five years and struggling every step of the way. Henry and Olive complement each other like so many married couples do. His warmth and kindness needs to hold up against her tense tone and sharp tongue. He needs to be a constant in her life to keep her in line and though it appears strained and uncomfortable it works for them. And that relationship works for us as a viewer as well. Add to that the son, Christopher, who though living it, does not understand this family dynamic and you are captured by the Kitteridge family.
I’d be quite surprised if anyone told me that they did not hang on every word spoken. At least for me, there were no bathroom breaks or fridge raids. The conversations between Henry and his employee Denise (Zoe Kazan, pictured); the scenes at the wedding; Olive with Jack Kennison (Bill Murray) and especially the talk around the Kitteridge table are priceless moments. Equal to that is the production style of the work. Cholodenko and her guidance coupled with the cinematography and art direction made this a beautifully rendered and shot film. Even as the plotline takes us in leaps in time each transition gives us a moment to absorb the prior scene. OLIVE KITTERIDGE will stick in your mind for those technical aspects as well as story and will be nominated at Emmy Award time, you wait and see.
That leaves us to look at the acting performances. I can’t see anyone better than Frances McDormand as Olive. She doesn’t worry about how she looks or comes across for it is all about the character for her. In fact, you don’t even see her; you see Mrs. Kitteridge. I could go off on a tangent right here and really break down this character and reveal the traumatic experience that drove he to her brusque demeanor, but it is a lot more interesting to let the viewer witness her for themselves I think. It is enough to know that she does not want to appear a vulnerable woman to anyone. She wants to look as if she is always in control and that she can end any inanities she cannot tolerate. She comes across as strong willed enough to help others in need yet can’t help herself. It is all tragically played out. As, for Henry, played by SIX FEET UNDER’s Richard Jenkins, we already mentioned his purpose as the ying to her yang. Though he spars with his “Ollie” he loves her and needs her. He even flat out asks her at one point that she “would never leave him, right?”
Their son and the other characters throughout this story flow in and out of the lives of this couple feeling the effects of being close to their distinct energies and how they are being drawn in or repulsed, hugged or slapped; dealt with or dismissed. The audience gets caught up in that as well and makes OLIVE KITTERIGE a rough yet mesmerizing journey to be on.
In Conclusion: This is journey worth taking. In fact, though there have been wonderful miniseries prior with JOHN ADAMS, PARADE’S END and MILDRED PIERCE, This story and its execution stand tall as a bold, hash story that truly engages the viewer. I’d love to discuss it deeper with anyone right here in the Comment section below. If you haven’t seen OLIVE KITTERIDGE I urge you do so; you can watch it an hour segment at a time on HBOGO or catch the four installments on the network. HBOWatch awaits your comments.
What follows is a breakdown of each installment from our “What’s On” post:
– Part 1: “Pharmacy”: After Henry Kitteridge’s assistant collapses outside the pharmacy he owns in Crosby, a small town in Maine, he brings on the young, wide-eyed Denise, who proves to be a breath of fresh air. Henry’s wife Olive, a math teacher, and fellow teacher Jim O’Casey give Kevin Coulson, a shy, intelligent student whose mother Rachel is suffering from depression, a ride home from school – a decision that does not sit well with Olive’s son Christopher. After convincing his wife to cook dinner for Denise and her husband, Henry goes on a hunting trip, which ends tragically. A few weeks later, Olive experiences a tragedy of her own. HBO dates are 11.02, 11.06, 11.08, 11.12, 11.20 and 11.27.
– Part 2: “Incoming Tide”:Now in his 20s, Kevin returns to Maine on a dark mission and is corralled by Olive while sitting in his car. Sensing that Kevin is not doing well emotionally, Olive invites him to stay over, pressuring him to attend Christopher’s rehearsal dinner that night. Kevin obliges, though his reunion with Christopher proves awkward. At the wedding, Olive, who is none too thrilled with Christopher’s bride, has a disagreement with the bride’s mother, Joyce, and, after alarming the flower girl, retreats alone to the bride and groom’s upstairs bedroom. HBO air dates: 11.02, 11.06, 11.08, 11.12, 11.20 and 11.28.
– Part 3: “A Different Road”: After dinner with friends Bonnie and Harmon, Olive and Henry make a pit stop that takes a chilling turn. In the aftermath, Christopher is rebuffed by Olive when he suggests she and Henry should get counseling. Eight months later, Henry’s health takes a turn, and Christopher confronts his mother about constantly rebuking him as a child. Later, Olive recalls her surreal experience when paying a visit to Louise Larkin. It airs on 11.03, 11.06, 11.09, 11.13, 11.21 and 11.29.
– Part 4: “Security”: Olive goes to New York to visit Christopher, now living with his pregnant second wife, Ann, and her two young children. Put off by Ann’s touchy-feely demeanor and an incident with her son Theodore, Olive abruptly announces she wants to return to Maine – setting off another fight with Christopher. On returning home, Olive receives bad news about Henry. Six months later, Olive comes upon Jack Kennison while out for a walk, and the pair develop an unlikely bond. HBO air dates are 11.03, 11.06, 11.09, 11.13, 11.21 and 1.30.