Man. Who's better than Kate Winslet?
It seems like the English actress has become the Hollywood face of American suburban angst. The miniseries "Mildred Pierce" premiered last night on HBO -- parts one and two of five --, in which Winslet plays the title role: a Depression-era housewife who reluctantly accepts a class-compromising waitressing job after her husband takes off with his girlfriend, leaving her to take care of their two daughters. She’s miserable, terrified, vulnerable, but stronger than she realizes. ... It sorta seems like Kate Winslet has been rehearsing for this role for years.
Do you remember? She played another Pierce in “Little Children,” a film that focused on Sarah Pierce, an overeducated, unhappy, lustful, pent-up housewife who takes up with a hunky (but also troubled), out-of-her-league stay-at-home dad to fill all the sadness voids that reportedly come with years of ticky-tacky routine, marital neglect/resentment, domestic boredom, etc. Winslet’s got the perfect aesthetic for these roles, her face a kind of damaged-but-not-quite-broken, makeupless-but-still-pretty mug on her. She threw it into action, too, in the film adaptation of Richard Yates’ “Revolutionary Road,” as yet another cheated-on (and cheating) wifey whose husband breaks promises and falls dramatically short of her expectations. It all ends, well, tragically.
Tonight’s first two parts revealed the beginning of Mildred Pierce’s new beginning. Her husband leaves her, and she’s not sure how to explain his absence to their daughters, but they quickly figure it out. She struggles to find a job that doesn’t shame her -- an interview for a housekeeping job is truly unbearably degrading -- and finally settles on a job as a waitress, but not without tears and puke and a much-needed reality check from a friend.
So Mildred’s humiliated over the nature of the work (the men grabbing her ass, the staff vocally frustrated with her inexperience, the uniforms). Her older daughter is a precocious, impossible-to-like adolescent whose own social status is at risk because of her mother’s new occupation, and both mother and daughter spend a lot of time fretting about this possibility, which is an obvious indication of household delusion. But Mildred quickly finds an opportunity to start her own restaurant -- that serves just chicken and waffles or chicken and vegetables -- and it seems like things are going swell for the left-in-the-lurch housewife. And then it all falls apart again, and I won’t give it away.
At Slate, Troy Patterson wrote
that “Mildred Pierce” might be an attempt at the “classiest soap opera ever aired, lustrous and languorous in tracing the lengths that mothers will go to for their daughters and the knots they tie themselves up in while doing so.” Director Todd Haynes is known for his arty treatment of Big Movements (he directed the Bob Dylan anti-biopic “I’m Not There” and the glam-rock epic “Velvet Underground”), and I’m eager to see how things unfold for Mildred, but the end of part two doesn’t portend great things.