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Faithful to the Novel,
This review is from: Mildred Pierce (DVD)
In Todd Haynes adaptation of "Mildred Pierce," gone is the noir drama of the 1945 movie of the same name with Joan Crawford, and some screenwriting from William Faulkner, and it's replaced with a more faithful to the James M Cain novel, which is a much more realistic portrayal of the times, and captures the bright realism of the novel which is plays more like a Edward Hopper painting than noir.
As in the novel, Mildred Pierce is a `grass widow,' which is depression era parlance for a divorced woman, needs to support her family of two children, Veda and Ray, because her husband Bert can't find a job and is carrying out an affair with a married woman. After Mildred throws Bert out she finds she only has skills enough for restaurant work and making pies. An employment agency sends her out on a job as a maid but pride won't allow her to take the job because she has to wear a uniform and defer to the lady of the house. Recuperating from the humiliation she felt at having to take a job as a maid in a diner she discovers they need a new waitress, and Mildred swallows her pride and takes the job. She quickly learns all the in's and out's of the restaurant business and opens her own, which in short order is successful. Her daughter Veda, who seems to have been born a snob, continually humiliates Mildred and those around her she considers of a lower social status (Why Veda feels that way we're never told, except from glimpses of Mildred behaving the same way such as kicking Bert only because she didn't get a winter fur coat) shows an interest in, and talent for playing the piano and as she grows older becomes an operatic singer. On the eve of opening her first restaurant Mildred meets, and has an affair with Monty Beragon, a faded aristocrat who's fortune's are in decline while Mildred's fortunes incline.
"Mildred Pierce" hangs squarely on Kate Winslet's shoulders as Mildred, not only does she turn in a strong performance she works in some nuances that inform the viewer of some of the texture of the novel.
Guy Pearce as Monty Beragon has another role, while not totally disappearing into the character gives a performance of the character that starts as a carefree playboy, to a rangy dissipate, while his appearance mirrors that change. His demeanor at first quite carefree but as time goes on, the elements that make Monty a charming aristocrat in decline darken and we see those same elements of him in a different light.
Rachael Evan Walker doesn't show up as the older Veda until part 4 and while she shows some very affected mannerisms for the snobbish Veda. Towards the end looks very vampiric as Veda takes everything Mildred has. Unfortunately, other than two very tempestuous scenes, that she makes the most of, Wood is mostly shown singing at various operatic venues. As the younger Veda, Morgan Turner is the snobbish, haughty child who you would like to slap her face off for her affrontery.
Mare Winningham as Ida is totally wasted in a part that could have been played by anyone. The two main male characters Bert (Brian F O'Byrne) and Wally Burgan (James LeGros) aren't given much to do except react to Mildred, especially Bert. But then they're weren't given a lot to do in the Cain novel either.
Since it follows the novel so closely it has some of the failings of the novel. There isn't a lot of action or inner drama. Some of the dialogue feels clunky pulled right from the novel, whether it's because some of the vernacular has become anachronistic since Cain wrote the novel in 1941, or it was clumsily written by Cain. An example, Veda's dialogue some times doesn't sound like a real person would say it, but a character in a book would.
HBO also has a half hour making of "Mildred Pierce" that I'm sure will make it to the DVD when they release it.