Sunday Editor’s Pick: “Mildred Pierce” (2010)

by on May 8, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

2:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]

The Museum of the Moving Image smothers with mothers this holiday weekend. Following their Friday and Saturday screenings of Chantal Akerman’s epically minimalist maternal melodrama, Jeanne Dielman: 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, this afternoon they’ll project all five episodes of Todd Haynes’ HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce.
Imagine a Hallmark card that takes 9 hours to read and ends unhappily and you’ll understand why these back-to-back screenings make for a pretty hilarious holiday programming coup.
Alt Screen’s Brynn White was somewhat underwhelmed by Haynes miniseries:

[Mildred Pierce‘s] approach will likely win favor with audiences weened on Mad Men’s slow-simmer pacing and glossy surfaces masking existential despair. But one can’t help but wish Haynes and Winslet had embraced the pulpy breathlessness of Cain’s potboiler, taken more risks, had a little more fun. Even though the 1945 version lost much of the point in classing-up Mildred and her chicken joints (and denying Veda her divine talent), Crawford supplied the needed operatic force, the power of a star lost in her worship of an undeserving other. No matter how meticulous the preparation, Haynes’ and Wisnlet’s unwillingness to dip their hands in the batter, lick the icing off the spoon and revel in the highs and lows of the melodrama they clearly know so well seems like a missed opportunity. Any fan of the novel watching the mini-series, for all its virtues and noble intentions, may end up feeling like Mildred as she yearns for the warmth Veda exudes to her father and realizes “all she ever got was a stagy, affected counterfeit. The half loaf she had to accept, trying not to see it for what it really was.”

J Ho for the Village Voice:

Anyone familiar with the Crawford Mildred Pierce might assume Haynes’s remake would resemble the faux–Douglas Sirk of his reimagined 1950s weepie Far From Heaven. But the attitude is quite different—there’s neither camp nor irony nor reference to the Crawford vehicle. Unfolding over five and a half hours, the rise and fall of a hardworking, hardheaded, not particularly imaginative young mother who divorces her deadbeat husband and parlays a knack for baking into a chain of 85-cent chicken-plate eateries—only to let her hard-won empire crumble away—is epic domestic drama with intimations of historical tragedy. Too distant and hardscrabble to evoke nostalgia, Haynes’s Mildred might have appeared in the disillusioned days of The Godfather or Chinatown. The black-and-white past of the 1930s is reconstructed in pastel hues, with morally dubious characters bathed in an ambiguous golden light.


Matt Zoller Seitz for Salon:

Mildred Pierce is a masterpiece. I say that with some surprise, because I went into this five-part, limited-run HBO series skeptical of the channel’s motivation for making it (Period costumes! Kate Winslet! Emmy bait!) and resisting the appeal of its director, Todd Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven), a filmmaker whose work I’ve always admired but rarely loved. If I see a richer, more perfect drama on TV this year, I’ll be surprised.
Haynes’ take is more naturalistic [than the 1945 adaptation by Michael Curtiz]. He’s one of the most acutely film-history-conscious of major American filmmakers, but here, for the first time in his career, he doesn’t seem to be trying to interpret a genre, prove a theorem or juxtapose different modes for effect. He’s just telling the story. If the production recalls any prior work, it’s Terence Davies’ adaptation of The House of Mirth, which was about as visually expressive as an adaptation of a period novel could be while remaining earthbound.  As Mildred, Winslet is the anti-Crawford. Where Crawford’s physical presence (simultaneously hyper-feminine and mannish) stylized Mildred and made her into an iconic figure, Winslet’s interpretation is more life-size — like what you might imagine a strong-willed, passionate grandmother or great-grandmother to have been like when you weren’t around to know her. She is a complex and elusive character, impossible to diminish or summarize.


Stephen King for Newsweek:

Cain’s novels are quick, hard stabs to the heart. His most famous book, The Postman Always Rings Twice ,is just 128 pages long. The original paperback version of Mildred Pierce was only 250 pages. You could read the whole thing aloud before the miniseries finishes. I think Cain would marvel at the acting and production values, but roll his eyes at the plodding pace. Probably Elmore Leonard, whose famous recipe for good entertainment is “leave out the boring parts,” would do the same.

Allessandra Stanley for the New York Times:

[Mildred Pierce] is loyally, unwaveringly true to James M. Cain’s 1941 novel and somehow not nearly as satisfying as the 1945 film noir that took shameless liberties with plot, characters and settings.
The Hollywood version compressed the Depression-era drama into a soapy 1940s murder mystery. Mildred Pierce wasn’t by any means the best work of the director Michael Curtiz, who had previously made Casablanca, even though William Faulkner was one of the screenwriters, and its star, Joan Crawford, won an Oscar by playing against type as a loving mother. Yet the movie has had lasting cult appeal, and it’s not just because of all those milky close-ups of its star in varying states of maternal distress.


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