Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge: A Portrait of A Woman's Life

By David-Elijah Nahmod - Nov. 20, 2014

Early on in HBO's four-hour miniseries Olive Kitteridge, the seemingly hard-hearted Olive takes the Valentine's Day card given to her by her husband out of the trash and places it on the windowsill above her kitchen sink.

She doesn't see the point in keeping the card after reading it; he doesn't understand how she can throw away a card he gave to her out of love; and viewers may wonder what Henry (Richard Jenkins) sees in his cold, practical wife, though it’s clear he adores her.

Through the decades, Olive shows many sides of herself. Beneath the cold, stubborn exterior is a deep commitment to her family and obligation. She displays a strong sense of right from wrong and her effect on the people around her is profound.

Years after retiring from her job as a math teacher, she saves a former student's life by talking him out of committing suicide. That same weekend another former student falls off the rocky cliffs above the ocean in their seaside Maine town. The young man Olive saved jumps into the water to rescue the young woman – Olive inadvertently saved two lives.

She's got a good heart, yet many find it difficult to be around Olive's no-nonsense bluntness. Her son, Christopher (John Gallagher Jr.), can't stand her. They try to reach out to each other over the years, to no avail.

On the surface Olive seems like your typical repressed New England prude. But late in the film, as she approaches her ‘70s, she matter-of-factly states that she'd love and accept her son if he were gay. Olive is a widow now, on a first date with depressed widower Jack (Bill Murray) and she admonishes him for rejecting his lesbian daughter.

There are many, many layers to Olive Kitteridge.

Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Fargo) gives the dramatic performance of her life in HBO's jewel of a production. Based on a series of short novellas written by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge is, simply put, a portrait of a woman's life.

McDormand, who's on screen for 90 percent of the film's running time, brilliantly captures Olive's hard-edged intensity and innate goodness.

It's a sensational, multidimensional performance from one of our most gifted actors. McDormand makes the simple, slow moving story hypnotic and mesmerizing: she's impossible to turn away from as she reveals the depth of Olive's soul.

Olive Kitteridge features strong and assured direction from Lisa Cholodenko, the lesbian filmmaker whose film The Kids Are All Right was a breakout hit following its 2010 release.

Ultimately this new film stands as a brilliant collaboration between two artists at the height of their powers.

Olive Kitteridge can be seen at HBO On Demand and HBO Online through the end of 2014. Airdates on HBO channels can be found at https://www.hbo.com.

Photo courtesy of The Dinah

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