“This is a story that begins with a barbecue….An ordinary neighborhood barbecue in an ordinary backyard.”
What happened at that barbecue frames the plot for Liane Moriarty’s bestselling page turner, Truly, Madly, Guilty. With an expert hand, she teases out what actually transpired at the cookout, along the way filling us in on the lives of those who attended with their overlapping and complicated relationships.
Clementine and Erika grew up together, the friendship orchestrated by Clementine’s mother, Pamela. Erika’s father left when she was a child and her mother, Sylvia, fell apart, her penchant for collecting exploding into full blown hoarding. Clementine didn’t always welcome Erika’s presence, resentful that Pamela at times seemed to favor Erika over her own daughter. Truth be told, Pamela related more to Erika’s career as an accountant with regular hours and a steady paycheck, than to Clementine’s as a cellist, with an erratic schedule and constant auditions.
Clementine and Sam have two young daughters, Holly and Ruby, while Erika and her husband, Oliver, are childless. Neither couple boasts a happy marriage. Clementine, preparing for an important audition, feels guilty whenever she takes time to practice. While Sam makes a show of being cooperative, he’s going through his own career crisis and has little sympathy for his wife.
Erika’s complicated relationship with her mother drains her energy, both emotionally and physically. With Sylvia’s “collecting” spilling over onto the front lawn, complaints by neighbors require Erika to visit occasionally to clean up. Oliver is supportive, but often wonders if his wife will follow in the footsteps of her mother.
Vid and Tiffany, who live next door to Erika and Sam, round out the trio of couples. Tiffany is Vid’s second wife and they have a daughter, Dakota, whose nose is constantly buried in a book. While Tiffany now makes money in real estate, she was once a pole dancer and still has the look.
The barbecue was a spur of the moment invitation from Vid. Erika and Oliver had already invited Clementine and Sam over for dinner and Vid eagerly expanded the invitation to include both couples as well as Holly and Ruby. It’s an invitation they will all come to regret.
As she did in one of her previous bestsellers, Big Little Lies, Moriarty alternates between the past and present. In Big Little Lies, the big event was a Trivia Night at a posh school for children. In Truly, Madly, Guilty, it’s the barbecue. With both books, I had the urge to flip forward to discover what crisis impacted the lives of the characters. But Moriarty manages to make the present equally compelling as she carefully adds to each character’s resume.
Moriarty, one of Australia’s most popular writers – her sisters, Jaclyn and Nicola are also novelists – is now an international favorite. Her reputation will continue to grow in 2017 with the release of the HBO miniseries based on Big Little Lies starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Alexander Skarsgard. Can one on Truly, Madly, Guilty be far behind?
Truly Madly, Guilty
Photo from Bigstock
There have been a lot of films about Tarzan and his adventures in the jungle, dating all the way back to the 1910s. We’ve always been fascinated with stories of humans in a simpler, more instinctual setting (see The Jungle Book as an example), and our relationship to gorillas, apes and other animals works as a study of the human psyche and adaptability. The Legend of Tarzan is unfortunately less about any of the aforementioned and more about the thrill, minus any of the depth. It’s not as bad as one would think, but it is disappointing.
In 1884, King Leopold of Belgium has taken over the Congo, plundering the African country for its vast riches. Dr. Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) suspects that the king, now overextended and in debt, is using slave workers to cut his costs. Enter typical bad guy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), sent on a mission by the king to strike an accord with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) that will allow for the mining of diamonds. There’s just one thing Rom has to do before Mbonga agrees: bring back to the Congo the chief’s mortal enemy, Tarzan.
Easier said than done. Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), has reclaimed his heritage and birth name – John Clayton III – and for the past eight years has been living a civilized life in England with his wife, Jane, (Margot Robbie). While John doesn’t fall for Rom’s trap to lure him back, Dr. Williams puts forth a more convincing argument – to investigate what’s happening with King Leopold and his unjust mining expeditions. And so ensues the adventure that will find Tarzan returning to his original home to seek justice.
The film tries to manage so much that it mishandles most of the story lines, culminating in underdeveloped plots and characters. Flashing back to Tarzan’s time with the gorillas doesn’t have much effect. Director David Yates attempts to bring Tarzan into the 21st century, setting him up to be a hero who confronts real-world events. The story becomes less about Tarzan and his struggles to find a place in society after his upbringing in the jungle, which would have been far more interesting to watch. Instead, it becomes the usual hero/villain story and one that’s underwhelming at best.
Christoph Waltz’s character is frankly a bit on the dull side. Waltz can sell anything, but over time his characters, all of which are villainous to some capacity, have begun to blend together. The film makes a show of painting him as a dangerous man, but in order to retain a PG-13 rating, he’s never shown to be lethal. (Surely his obsession with Jane could have crossed into more disturbing territory.)
Although I love Samuel L. Jackson on any given day, his role here seems misplaced, and for a while, it’s as if Yates wanted to turn The Legend of Tarzan into a duo adventure, with Jackson working as comic relief and Skarsgård being the serious one who doesn’t seem as into the partnership. Robbie spends three-fourths of the movie being a damsel in distress. The film would have fared better if it had allowed Robbie and Skarsgård to appropriately partner up for the jungle adventure.
The adventure aspect of the film is fun, with the jungle action sequences full of exhilarating moments. The darker tone to the film is meant to portray the seriousness of the plot, asking us to take the film more seriously than is called for. Ultimately, The Legend of Tarzan is adventurous and has some moments of intensity, but it simply tries to be too much at once. Tarzan as a savior doesn’t really work in the way that Yates probably envisioned and the combination of villainous politics and jungle adventure strikes a strange chord. In trying to make Tarzan more of a hero, it took away from all of the more humanistic struggles the film could have explored instead.
The Legend of Tarzan opens nationwide July 1, 2016.