Sep 11

“Big Little Lies” Season Two: Therapist Loses Cred

In a previous post I commented on the competence of the therapist—and how refreshing this was considering how little of this we see on TV and film—in Season One of Big Little Lies. Unfortunately, my opinion has changed after watching the most recent shows. Although Big Little Lies Season Two features the same therapist, she’s different now. I’ll try to explain. Spoilers ahead.

Big Little Lies Season One therapy: In a nutshell, Celeste (Nicole Kidman) addressed being the victim of domestic violence in her therapy with a helpful Dr. Amanda Reisman (Robin Weigert). But Celeste didn’t have to decide to leave her abusive husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) after all. As of the finale he’s dead.

Big Little Lies Season Two therapy: Each therapy scene is jarringly confrontational and off-putting, but the worst offense occurs when Dr. Reisman asks Celeste not only to focus on remembering her abuse but also to imagine her best friend, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) being abused in the same way. Sure, Reisman probably wants to turn Celeste’s empathy for others inward. But, as Julia Naftulin, Insider, points out, her approach leads to unnecessarily retraumatizing Celeste.

Indeed, one of the goals of a trauma-sensitive therapist involves trying not to trigger the painful memories and flashbacks. Purposely probing for a reenactment of the past is likely to further embed aspects of the trauma into a client’s brain.

Another problem is Reisman’s judgmental attitudes. She pushes Celeste, for instance, to see her marriage in more black-and-white terms, i.e., Perry is bad—someone to get over already. The reality is that Celeste had been in a complicated relationship with a man who yes, did awful things to her—but who was loved as well.

Therapist Kelly Scott gives Insider this sound opinion:

…Dr. Reisman’s approach ⁠— insisting that Perry was purely evil, with no positive attributes ⁠— only could have been effective if he was still alive and Celeste needed a one-dimensional view of him to leave the relationship. But now that Perry is dead, painting him as the bad guy serves no purpose for Celeste or her safety. Rather, it will likely alienate her.

Madeline and her husband Ed (Adam Scott) also sign up for Reisman therapy after Ed finds out Madeline was unfaithful. In what appears to be their very first session, Reisman badgers a confused Madeline into explaining why she cheated, then out of the blue accuses Ed of being “profoundly disengaged” and possibly as guilty as his wife for their current problems. The upshot: neither is happy with how they’re treated.

For additional info and opinions regarding the therapist in Big Little Lies Season Two, here are a few resources:

Dec 26

“Wild”: Cheryl Strayed’s Difficult But Therapeutic Journey

The plot in brief of Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed‘s memoir: Following a series of losses and struggles, Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) embarks on a solo three-month hike on the Pacific Coast Trail. Her mission statement: “I’m going to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was” (Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com).

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice, explains a bit more:

This woman-vs.-nature battle is, of course, really a woman-vs.-herself conflict in disguise. Although she’s joined by the occasional fellow traveler, the Strayed of Wild is mostly alone, and deeply so, with the memories of her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), who died a few years earlier at age 45. In the time since, Strayed had done a marvelous job of messing up her life: She’s had a careless and dangerous fling with heroin, and she’s still feeling sorrow over a failed marriage.

Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter, reports on the frequent use of flashbacks, often brief ones, in Wild:

Gaby Hoffmann as Cheryl’s supportive but skeptical friend and Thomas Sadoski as her conflicted husband make the most of their scenes, but it’s really Dern who tears at our emotions during her scenes with Witherspoon. Bobbi’s life journey, cut tragically short by illness, is as compelling as Cheryl’s. This is one of the most honest, complex portrayals of a mother-daughter relationship that we’ve seen in any recent movie, and the loss of her mother helps to explain Cheryl’s utter disorientation and her search for a major challenge to bring her back to life.

Strayed encounters people—mostly men–along her current journey as well. Justin Chang, Variety:

As an attractive woman in her 20s traveling alone, Cheryl is acutely aware that every strange man she encounters is a potential predator — whether it’s the kind farm worker (W. Earl Brown) who offers her a hot meal and shower, or the fellow traveler who turns out to be a very real threat. But Cheryl is neither a passive victim nor a saint, and in a film of quietly understated moments that often prove more impressive than the whole, few are as telling as the one where she casually spies on a male hiker (Kevin Rankin) emerging nude from a dip in the river — a rare example of the female gaze at work in American movies.

See the Wild trailer below:

WITHERSPOON AS STRAYED

Like many (including myself), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune) is fully on board: “Witherspoon does the least acting of her career, and it works. Calmly yet restlessly, she brings to life Strayed’s longings, her states of grief and desire and her wary optimism.” Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, represents the other camp: “…(T)here’s not a moment in the film when we can forget that we’re watching Reese Witherspoon…”

CHERYL STRAYED

Dana Stevens, Slate:

Cheryl’s a female protagonist of a kind we rarely see in the movies, someone who can be not just unlikable but at times unknowable, even to herself. This woman is a piece of work: disorganized, sailor-mouthed, given to self-destructive promiscuity and addictive behavior, but also curious, sardonic, and scary smart. After her divorce but before the hike, Cheryl rechristens herself, changing her birth surname, Nyland, to the evocative past-tense verb Strayed. Along the trail, she leaves quotes from the books she reads in a public logbook, co-signing them with her own name: ‘Emily Dickinson and Cheryl Strayed,’ ‘Adrienne Rich and Cheryl Strayed.’ Claiming co-authorship with the greats is a gesture of writerly hubris, sure, but it’s also an act of self-reinvention that somehow puts you on the side of this woman so determined to build up an interior self again, word by word.

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “What makes its heroine worth caring about — what makes her a rare and exciting presence in contemporary American film — is not that she’s tidy or sensible or even especially nice. It’s that she’s free.”

Oct 27

“Tracks” and “Wild”: Which of These Similar Films Will You See?

In all of the much-deserved shouting already out there about Reese Witherspoon in Wild (to be released later this year), a little film like Tracks could easily get lost. It’s a less audience-friendly film because while the two physical journeys are similar, the psychological journeys are much different. Marshall Fine, The Huffington Post

Two new one-word-titled films are just begging to be compared. Which of these upcoming true-memoir adaptations will you see? IMDB descriptions:

Tracks: A young woman goes on a 1,700-mile trek across the deserts of West Australia with four camels and her faithful dog.

Wild: A chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.

Tracks is set in the 1970’s, Wild in the 1990’s. Watch both trailers below:

The Real-Life Main Characters: Robyn Davidson in Tracks

“As depicted in the film, Davidson is not much of a people person. But she has a way with animals, and plans to make the trek with three adult camels, a cute baby camel named Goliath, and her dog Diggity.” (Peter Keough, Boston Globe)

“…a mix of maniacal idealism and childish stubbornness that makes it seem her chin is perpetually stuck out at the world. It’s hard to judge who’s more cantankerous, her or the four feral camels she trains to haul supplies for her and her beloved black dog, Diggity.” (Kristin Tillotson, Star Tribune)

The Real-Life Characters: Cheryl Strayed in Wild

“Witherspoon doesn’t shy away from showing the dark sides of Cheryl’s character — her surrender to sexual excesses and drug addiction, including heroin. Her battle for survival began a long time before she hit the wilderness trail, so her journey illuminates a whole series of internal as well as external struggles.” (Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter)

The Performances of the Leads: Mia Wasikowska (Tracks)

“After witnessing Wasikowska’s tour de force, its hard to imagine that even Oscar-winner Witherspoon can top it.” (Kriston Tillotson, Star Tribune)

The Performances of the Leads: Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

“…transforms herself both physically and emotionally into this hardened yet needy young woman seeking to reinvent herself after a series of personal tragedies.” (Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter)

Why the Journey? Tracks

“Hints at why come in flashbacks to her childhood — her father’s walkabouts, her mother’s suicide. But they feel like a distraction. As you watch the film unfold, the why quickly becomes less important than the how.” (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times)

Why the Journey? Wild

“The painful disintegration of Cheryl’s marriage, accelerated by her frightening if not entirely convincing transformation into a heroin-shooting nymphomaniac, is presented as a direct result of Bobbi’s death, at which point ‘Wild’ reveals itself to be, among other things, a mother-daughter love story.” (Justin Chang, Variety)

Those Met Along the Way (Tracks)

As a sunburned Robyn begins to learn about camels from a ruthless taskmaster named Kurt (Rainer Bock), the rough world of those who live on the desert’s edge takes hold…

Though Kurt is a cheating brute, more often Robyn is met by the kindness of strangers. Three become instrumental in her journey: the Afghan camel wrangler Sallay (John Flaus), the Aborigine elder Mr. Eddy (Rolley Mintuma) and Rick (Adam Driver), the photographer who starts as an irritant and becomes a friend.  (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times)

Flashbacks of Other Folks (Wild)

…[mom] Bobbi, an inspiring life force who is stricken with a devastating medical diagnosis. We learn of the closeness of their bond only gradually…

Gaby Hoffmann as Cheryl’s supportive but skeptical friend and Thomas Sadoski as her conflicted husband make the most of their scenes, but it’s really Dern who tears at our emotions during her scenes with Witherspoon. (Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter)