Lisey's Story review: Julianne Moore is left to languish in lavish Apple show from Stephen King
- Lisey's Story review: Julianne Moore is stranded in overproduced new Apple show, from an all-male creative team that includes Stephen King, JJ Abrams and Pablo Larrain.
At any given moment, Lisey’s Story feels like it has about five different shows inside it, trying to break out. That is ironic, because Lisey’s Story — among the most high-profile series that Apple TV+ has ever produced — is almost exclusively about people who are, in one way or another, trapped.
Alternatively a horror story about traumas of the past and a fantasy tale about coping with those traumas, Lisey’s Story has the distinct feel of something that has been created by a bunch of men who haven’t been told ‘no’ in quite some time. Ultimately, it is a woman who pays for their overindulgence.
Watch the Lisey's Story trailer here
Oscar-winner Julianne Moore is stranded in the central role, as a widow reckoning with the death of her novelist husband, played by Clive Owen. Adapted by writer Stephen King from his 2006 novel, Lisey’s Story is among the most personal stories that he has ever told. And yet, under the creative supervision of director Pablo Larrain and executive producer JJ Abrams, the show feels oddly emotionally distant.
There is no denying that it is handsomely mounted — there is lush cinematic quality to the visuals, shot by legendary cinematographer Darius Khondji — but Lisey’s Story still feels overproduced, and subsequently, overwhelming.
Larrain and King — in many ways equal authors of this thing — structure the show in a non-linear format. Lisey in the present day has slipped into a life of solitude following her husband Scott Landon’s violent death. She’s being harassed by an academic who is after his unpublished writings, and stalked by a maniacal fan. We’re also shown scenes from Lisey and Scott’s romantic past, and in flashbacks within flashbacks, forced to witness the horrors of his abusive childhood.
This is where King kind of compromises his own tale. Known for his elaborate world-building, the writer introduces the Boo’ya Moon, a fantasy land to which a young Scott escaped as a child. It’s a land that looks an awful lot like the Ancestral Plane from Black Panther, and is populated by massive creatures that’ll remind you of the rock monsters from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.
Similarly sweeping in scope as Lisey’s Story might be, it feels as if Larrain is more comfortable with the human elements of the story than the fantastical bits. Which makes sense, because the show shares several overlapping themes with his 2016 film, Jackie — another story about a woman coming to terms with the loss of her husband, and discovering that she has agency of her own.
Like president John F Kennedy, Scott, too, had his cult of fans. Among the most deranged is Jim Dooley, who arrives at Lisey’s door and proceeds to take her hostage after she refuses to surrender Scott’s manuscripts. These are some of the show's most unsettling scenes; violent to even my desensitised mind. Dane DeHaan, however, is very much on his own trip as Dooley. He plays the lunatic like a Mark David Chapman type; a nihilist incel capable of tremendous evil — the sort of person that Scott could very well have turned into, had he not found a safe haven in the Boo’ya Moon.
It is somewhat troubling, however, that despite being framed from her perspective, it’s hardly Lisey’s Story at all. Granted, the show is about her emerging from a lifetime spent under her husband’s shadow, but Lisey is merely a character in his sprawling universe, a corner of which he has quite literally created himself.
A subplot involving Lisey and her two sisters, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Allen, rings slightly hollow — especially towards the end — mostly because no female voice can be heard amid the manly din behind the camera. Would it have hurt for King to have surrendered the reigns of his story to a woman? Or is that too radical a notion? Who’s to say. But what’s the worst that could’ve happened? It’s a bloated mess already.
Director - Pablo Larrain
Cast - Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joan Allen, Dane DeHaan, Sung Kang
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar