Little Fires Everywhere
The opening sequence to Little Fires Everywhere introduces us to exactly that. A burning house with multiple deliberate fires and a missing teenager are immediately teased in the eight-part miniseries based on Celeste Ng’s bestselling novel. It’s the 1990s in upscale suburb Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the paths of two families – particularly the two mothers – collide, leading to an unravelling of events. In this strictly image-obsessed town, where there are even fines for overgrown lawns, there are also dangerous sparks from the get-go, as the adaptation addresses underlying tensions of race, morality and class and the difference between appearance and reality.
Motherhood is the most prominent theme throughout. The question is posed of what a good mother looks like and how ferociously far she will go to be one. Image-obsessed poster-mum Elena (Reese Witherspoon) is juxtaposed with struggling artist single mother Mia Warren (Kerry Washington). Formulaic clashes with free-spirited as Elena rents a house to Mia, even self-righteously offering her a job as a “house manager” and intertwining their lives further. This passive classism and racism is littered alongside other examples, like characters assuming the Warrens do not live in Shaker Heights as they are black. There’s also the catalyst of a poverty-stricken mother unable to care for her child, the abandonment affecting both protagonists with explosive consequences. It has the subtlety – and entertainment – of a soap opera.
Complicating matters are the teenagers themselves and their high school drama. Elena’s golden children reek of entitlement: Lexie and Trip are the most popular students at school, whereas Moody is awkward and Izzy is the black sheep of the family, bullied at school over a mystery altercation and misunderstood by her own mother. Then there’s Pearl, dazzled by the materialistic luxuries of the Richardson family and craving the stability they seemingly possess. Alongside the examination of belonging and identity, more questions are posed: are Mia and Pearl running or hiding, and what from? What is Izzy’s role in all this? It’s a slow burn before any concrete answers are offered, with the episodes playing primarily on the tensions and rivalry between the two matriarchs.
Witherspoon and Washington may share top billing and magnetic interactions, but there are worthy performances from young actors Megan Stott (Izzy) and Lexi Underwood (Pearl). Every character carries their baggage and propensity for manipulation, and there will undoubtedly be comparisons to Witherspoon’s exec-produced other adaptation Big Little Lies. Her latest project is a little less nuanced and often plays it safe, but ultimately, Little Fires Everywhere is just as compelling to watch.
Little Fires Everywhere is released digitally on demand on 22nd May 2020.
Watch the trailer for Little Fires Everywhere here: