Thursday, June 13, 2024

Kathryn Hahn’s thrilling performance in Tiny Beautiful Things will have you in tears

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Tiny Beautiful Things ★★★★

The Marvel superhero machine increasingly has a way of recruiting great actors and then not doing a great deal with them. But when the studio snagged Kathryn Hahn for 2021’s WandaVision series, I was delighted. My thinking was that not only would Hahn surpass Marvel’s parameters – which she did, to the point where her character, Agatha, has her own spin-off Marvel series making its debut later this year – but her performance would point people in the direction of one of television’s finest bodies of work from the past 10 years.

Kathryn Hahn as Clare in Tiny Beautiful Things.Credit: Erin Simkin/Hulu

The 50-year-old actor may have got her foot in the door with spark plug comic roles in the likes of Bad Moms and Parks & Recreation, but since 2014 she’s been on a tear inhabiting women whose private emotional lives and public actions lead to complicated, thrilling portrayals. Hahn can make you understand the role she’s playing in ways that you will never anticipate, or sometimes fully understand. There’s been Transparent, I Love Dick, Private Lives and Mrs Fletcher. The 2023 family drama Tiny Beautiful Things is – happily – more of the same.

Hahn plays Clare Pierce, who is on the verge of turning 50 and will be celebrating alone because her exhausted husband, Danny Kincade (Quentin Plair), has banished her from their family home after one too many transgressions. She’s a capable mess, one step ahead of her issues but always at risk of succumbing to another. Even her housing situation is a worry, given that she’s sneaking into the nursing home where she’s an administrator and squatting in a vacant room. The brittle, deceptive energy Hahn invests Clare with is both compelling and worrying.

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Tiny Beautiful Things was adapted by Liz Tigelaar (Little Fires Everywhere) from the 2012 self-help book by Cheryl Strayed (Wild). It was a collection of online advice columns Strayed wrote, under the pseudonym “Sugar”, and in this series, Clare gets a second chance writing as a fictional Sugar.

Clare was a budding author in her 20s (played by Sarah Pidgeon), but lost control of her career and drifted away from writing. The advice column lets her rediscover a dormant gift, find satisfaction and obliquely address her own struggles. It’s also more fun than her torturous marriage counselling sessions.

Clare (Kathryn Hahn) and Rae Pierce-Kincade (Tanzyn Crawford) in <i>Tiny Beautiful Things</i>.

Clare (Kathryn Hahn) and Rae Pierce-Kincade (Tanzyn Crawford) in Tiny Beautiful Things.Credit: Jessica Brooks/Hulu

Many of the flashback scenes with a younger Clare feature her late mother, Frankie (Merritt Wever, somewhat underused). The relationship between the two, which houses many of Clare’s regrets, is mirrored in the fractious dynamic between Clare and her own teenage daughter, Rae (Tanzyn Crawford). The scenes between the pair, where they unfortunately give as good as they each get, have the roughest of edges, especially as Clare knows she’s repeating the past, but nonetheless succumbs. That the show trusts the performances to suggest this is a welcome bonus.

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