what i watched last week
six, administrative assistant

a few last words on mildred pierce

This isn’t how I normally do things, but it’s the easiest way for me to work out a few things, so here goes.

Matt Zoller Seitz, one of my favorite critics, loved Mildred Pierce. That doesn’t change my opinion that Seitz is one of the best, but neither does it change my opinion that Mildred Pierce was disappointing.

Unlike many of the people Seitz singles out, I did not find the mini-series slow. And I agree with him that there was a lot of great filmmaking throughout the series (although I eventually tired of Todd Haynes’ repetitive use of sticking his camera behind pillars and walls and the like).

But the only way I could tolerate the character of Veda was by treating the show as a comedy, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what was intended. I had hopes that the switch from Morgan Turner to Evan Rachel Wood would help, but no such luck. I can’t blame the actresses. They had dialogue to read and they read it … they were directed a certain way and they followed instructions. But when Wood started using the same annoying hand and arm movements that had made Turner’s performance so unrealistic, I knew this was on purpose. Since I hated it, that was a purpose designed to irritate me, not because Veda was annoying or irritating or evil, but because the body movements were pointless.

I mentioned Seitz above because he offered a unique explanation for the character of Veda. He compared her to Iago, and quoted a friend saying:

She is not supposed to be taken literally, if you know what I mean … The way Haynes envisions her, she's almost like this manifestation of all of Mildred's fears. She doesn't talk like anybody else in the miniseries. Everything she says sounds like it could be Mildred's insecurity talking. When they talk to each other it's almost like Mildred is talking to herself.

Well, I’m sorry, but if Haynes wanted us to see Veda as a manifestation of fears rather than as a real person, he needed to do something to make that more clear. Of course Veda is a manifestation of Mildred’s fears, but she is represented literally … we don’t get to the end and find out that Veda was just a figment of Mildred’s imagination. Veda was a corporeal being interacting with other recognizable humans, and she was unrecognizable as a human. Comparing her to Iago isn’t enough to salvage the concept.

I also found it ludicrous that Veda suddenly developed the skills and technique of a top-level opera singer, even though she had been presented solely as a piano player until the moment we find out she is singing for a living. Seitz describes this as “the uncanny, inexplicable appearance of genius in a family that has never shown any evidence of it before,” and he somehow sees the inexplicable as understandable, which strikes me as twisting things to make them fit your concept.

I’m using Seitz because he’s good, and because he is such a strong proponent of Mildred Pierce, which he flat out says is a masterpiece. But much of what he loved, I hated, and it isn’t because we saw different things, it’s because we reacted differently to the same things. There’s no right or wrong here, but the differing opinions are interesting to me.

And yes, Kate Winslet was great. But I’ll remind everyone once again that if, for some reason, Winslet ends up in the same category as Emmy Rossum in Shameless, Rossum better win.

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