Still, Mildred Pierce is the least stilted, most normal (and not simply fake “normal”) filmmaking of Haynes’s career. His Mildred Pierce embraces, without subverting, not just the melodramatic contrivances of Cain’s novel, right down to its final what-the-fuck line of dialogue, but also the author’s crazy aspiration to write a two-fisted, corn-fed, star-spangled Madame Bovary. The poignant longing for cultural refinement is something that the author shares with his protagonist. The more successful Mildred grows, the more her ungrateful daughter despises her and the more baroque their tormented relationship becomes.

Once the sylphlike Evan Rachel Wood materializes as the grown Veda—and especially after this vixen achieves radio stardom to become a disembodied spirit of the airwaves—Winslet appears increasingly heavy, old-fashioned, and vexed; the woman who knelt before the altar of free enterprise has become the priestess-victim of a new cult. A saga of unrequited star worship, terminal class envy, failed self-empowerment, and self-immolating smother love, Haynes’s Mildred Pierce is a nightmare as American as Mom and apple pie.

Mother’s load: Winslet, right, loves Wood too much.
Andrew Schwartz/HBO
Mother’s load: Winslet, right, loves Wood too much.

Details

Mildred Pierce
Directed by Todd Haynes
HBO; Parts I and II, March 27; Part III, April 3; Parts IV and V, April 10

jhoberman@villagevoice.com

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