Skip to comments.In Compelling Story About Motherhood, ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ Explores Blossoming Of Identity Politics In 1990s
Posted on 05/25/2020 10:46:41 AM PDT by Kaslin
In 'Little Fires Everywhere,' its interesting to see the '90s reflected from this distance of more than 20 years. But the identity politics is suffocating.
Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington face off as the opposite kind of mom in Hulus new Little Fires Everywhere, a series based on the popular book by Celeste Ng. The two womens lives intersect in the small, idyllic, town of Shaker, Ohio.
One mother is drawn to Shaker for the good school district, while the other has been there her entire life, and her legacy comes with power and influence. While the show is about race relations and the blossoming of identity politics in the 1990s, its also a deep exploration of motherhood, and what it means to be part of a family.
In Shaker, where a private school education comes at public school prices, there is one prominent ethos: those who live there are primarily good people who try to do the right thing, and really believe that by following their best intentions they are helping others. What they cant see is that helping people, and helping people assimilate to your lifestyle and expectations, are two different things. That only matters, of course, when an outsider comes onto the scene.
Witherspoon plays Elena, the perfect mom. Seeing Elena try to navigate her need to be correct and in line with social norms is really stressful. Washington plays Mia, the artsy, single mom who is loaded with more secrets than her old blue Chevy hatchback can carry. Both live on a razors edge, struggling to maintain a balance between what is expected of them and what they can do without breaking. Those definitions, for Mia and Elena, couldnt be more different, but the way they handle themwith lies, secrets, and a fear of truthcouldnt be more similar.
Elena has always believed herself to be one of the good people. She feels that she is charitable, fun, generous. She has always done what she is expected to do, from the time she was a little girl doing as her affluent family wanted to growing up, marrying a lawyer, and raising four children in a gorgeous home. What she wanted to dotravel the world for love, pursue a career in journalismwas set aside in order to attain these other goals.
Mia took an opposite tack. Her family, too, had rigid expectations, but she broke every last one of them, and became an artist. What keeps her locked in a prison of her own making are her secrets. Her connection with her daughter, Pearl (Lexi Underwood), is deep, thoroughly heart-to-heart, but Pearl is in the dark about not only her mothers past but her own. Her desires for what she feels are normal teenage life, from homecoming to first boyfriends, outweigh what her mother wants for her as well.
The story begins in the late 1990s, but it jumps around in time for flashback scenes that give viewers an understanding of Elena and Mia, and how they became the women and mothers they are. Its interesting to see the 90s reflected from this distance of more than 20 years. Conversations about affirmative action and racially exclusive clubs were in full swing, and the term microaggression had not yet cut its way through the mulchy earth of racial discourse. Saying pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon, mimicking the popular commercial of the time, got big laughs back then.
Adoption was big, both cross-culturally and cross-racially. Blended families, and social acceptance thereof, were considerable talking points. In Little Fires Everywhere, these things play a large role in the story and elucidate the differences in worldview between Mia and Elena. Does blood legitimize a mother, or is there something behavioral about motherhood? Is love all it takes to be a good mother, or does money matter? As our culture strives to provide an equality of opportunity for children, the question of what is best comes up in a variety of scenarios.
Witherspoons perfect-but-breaking-inside wealthy upper-class white woman with a reputation for perfection to uphold is pitch perfect. She has an OCD-style sex schedule with her husband, from which she will not deviate. She has four kids and wants them all to be pretty and popular. Her career gives her life, that extra layer of meaning, so she feels like more than the culture tells her she is.
The streams of each characters life, both the moms and their combined children, are shot in a really personal and intimate way. It can be jarring to experience this, anxiety-producing to feel empathy for all the characters on screen equally. Each is laid bare, shown without pretense. Scenes are all shot with intensity and mostly in close-ups. Long shots, even just from down the end of the hall, are rare. This is a mark of incredible directing by Lynn Shelton, who directed the bulk of the season. She died recently, at the young age of 54, from an undiagnosed blood disorder.
Little Fires Everywhere begins and ends with a house on fire. The season shows us the end, takes us back to the beginning, then brings us back to the end. This is much the way Mia and Elena each work through their personal narratives and history of choices to arrive at the same place.
Elena, catching up with an old beau, tells him: I wanted to know what your life looked like. If you were happy with the life you chose, or. Its like one day you wake up and its settled, you are who you are, and you dont remember how it got that way, you dont remember deciding. It just happened. I just wonder if you ever look back at your life and have regrets. Because I do, I have some regrets.
Perhaps its because of these regrets that the truth is revealed when Mia says to Elena, You cant stand it that someone would choose a different life than you. Its not that Elena cant stand it, its that she never understood that she had a choice to make. Elena thought all her choices were made for her.
In an early 1980s flashback, we see Mia driving with a young Pearl in the backseat. In 1983 we didnt know any better, so the kids sat up front. Its amazing how we can assume that our current practices are how they have always been. They are not.
This mistake is something of a metaphor for the entire series. We think we know ourselves, we think we understand how race relations work, what it means to be a mother, how to make a family. We think were following a strict path, when were really choosing.
We are choosing all the time. Every action, whether we think it through or not, is a choice. And it is not a given. Nothing weve done has been done before. There is no prescription. How we live is up to us.
It seemed like Reese already did that whole uptight suburban housewife bit in Big Little Lies.
And there are enough "Karens" in the real world.
Are you saying you tried to watch the movie? I don’t watch Hulu, Netflix and all the other crap
Loved it! The most striking thing for me was the rebellion of the kids, which showed that no matter what, teenagers will almost always do Or become the opposite of what their parents want. Even, the seemingly perfect kids have secret lives from their parents. We are either or know parents who maintain their kids would NEVER do that.
Thanks for the heads-up. I’ll pass. I know enough neurotic moms already.
Why post articles about the show if you didn't watch it?
I had a free on demand weekend from the cable company so I tried to watch it, but didn't get very far.
Sad about the director who died last week at only 54, though.
I’m trying to work my way through episode 3. Kerry Washington is still Olivia Pope in this series though I’m trying to identify any kind of range in her acting. Reese has a lot more range so it’s the only reason I’ve made it to episode 3.
Sounds like some real must-miss TV
Both live on a razors edge, struggling to maintain a balance between what is expected of them and what they can do without breaking.
Boo hoo. Life in these United States sure is hard. Try maintaining your balance anywhere else on Earth.
Excuse me while I vomit
It sounds like a misery to sit through.
Marxist claptrap about unfulfilled middle class women in the suburbs...
No wonder super hero movies are so popular.
I really liked it too...up until the last episode when it went totally PC. I was watching it alone because hubby quit watching after the first episode. I was yelling at the TV, giving the show a piece of my mind, but it didnt care, lol.
300,000 worldwide deaths are we wilted like flowers in Death Valley as a world responding to a minor pandemic. Seriously we are a bunch of pansies and snowflakes. Imagine THIS generation trying to survive in World War II. The world we live in now would have surrendered at Pearl Harbor. That is the result of PC Culture shriveling the masses.
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