By BRUCE DENNILL
All the below content is available to stream on Showmax.
Tali’s Wedding Diary / Created by Julia Anastasopoulos / 16L
Big Little Lies / Created by David E Kelley / 16LNSV
Third Person / Directed by Paul Haggis / 16SNL
Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary in the best traditions of the genre, able to inspire the skin-crawling, full-face-grimacing cringiness of a format that lays bare the humanity – in all its flawed, annoying, oblivious, hilarious glory – of protagonists that often quite accurately reflect “normal” people, and thus leave you worrying about the future of our species. Tali (Julia Anastasopoulos – also one of the writers and producers) is a Johannesburg kugel relocated to Cape Town, where her sweet, acquiescent boyfriend Darren (Anton Taylor), proposes to her and the quest for the perfect wedding – by Tali’s definition, obviously – begins, including the video diary viewers get to see. The writing is crystal-sharp and the scenarios regularly brutally awkward, with an excellent cast giving their characters a winning sincerity that plays wonderfully against their daft behaviour and rash dialogue. Best of a great bunch are Glen Biderman-Pam as Rael, Darren’s enthusiastically ambitious real estate business partner; Lara Toselli as Gabi, Tali’s close friend and regular rival for the spotlight; and Kate Normington as Tali’s zany mother Michelle. Funny, nasty, clever and, just occasionally, strangely moving.
Binge value: 4 / Family friendliness: 2 / Writing: 4 / Production values: 4 / Humour: 4 / Drama: 3 / Violence: 2 / Sex: 2 / Visuals: 4
A marquee name is a good, old-fashioned way to draw attention to a production, so throwing an entire A-list at a series should theoretically up the stakes. Big Little Lies stars Reese Witherspoon (as Madeline); Nicole Kidman (as Celeste); Shailene Woodley (as Jane); Zoe Kravitz (as Bonnie); Adam Scott (as Ed); Laura Dern (as Renata); Alexander Skarsgard (as Perry); and, in season two, Meryl Streep (as Mary), and happily, it manages to live up to the ridiculous expectations those names inspire. It’s the story of rich, uptight people in a rich, uptight community on the Californian coast. Their lives are beset with first-world problems that are no less destructive (particularly where relationships are concerned) for the superficiality from which they arise. At the story’s centre are a trio of friends – established community personalities Madeline and Celeste and newcomer Jane, who has far fewer of the hang-ups of her supposedly more sophisticated companions. They have each others’ backs, more or less, but gossip, competitiveness and the maintenance of carefully constructed facades continuously erodes their relationships with their similarly strong-minded fellow moms and their complicated spouses. The writing ratchets up the tension in small increments over the course of two full series, making its revelations in carefully plotted, well-written and intensely acted steps. It makes for frequently uncomfortable viewing as you watch the manipulation of which people who want for nothing except peace and happiness are capable, and though almost every character is difficult to really like, it’s occasionally possible to understand their perspectives.
Binge value: 4 / Family friendliness: 2 / Writing: 4 / Production values: 4 / Humour: 3 / Drama: 4 / Violence: 4 / Sex: 4 / Visuals: 4
Big-name casts aren’t always a guarantee of success, however, and in the case of Paul Haggis’ Third Person delivers, at best, mixed results despite having in its cast the undoubted talents of Liam Neeson, Maria Bello, Mila Kunis; Adrien Brody; Olivia Wild; James Franco and Kim Basinger. It’s a tale with three threads in different time frames, with the shared qualities of each story being love, lust, betrayal and bitterness. There are examinations of the power of celebrity versus the inspiration of talent, and of the power of passion over common sense, and there is plenty of glamour and, in places, strong performances. But the whole project is far more complicated that its conceit requires it to be, which makes it feel indulgent throughout. And the female characters are, though clearly capable women, all undermined by a script which, if it doesn’t take direct pleasure in their humiliation, certainly allows for far more degradation of their collective character than is either necessary or comfortable.
Family friendliness: 2 / Writing: 2 / Production values: 3 / Humour: 2 / Drama: 3 / Violence: 3 / Sex: 4 / Visuals: 3