Tiny Beautiful Things
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A writer in the midst of a personal unraveling gets an offer to write an advice column. Through her eyes at age 22 and 49, we see her use the experiences of her mother’s early death, her tenuous marriage, and her battles with her teenage daughter to transform herself and her career.
Based on Cheryl Strayed’s essay collection of the same name, the series was produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, adapted for TV by Liz Tigelaar (Little Fires Everywhere), and stars Kathryn Hahn (Wandavision, Transparent) and Merritt Wever (Unbelievable, Nurse Jackie).
It’s a series full of touching little revelations (a possible alternative title?) that are hard not to relate to, no matter what kind of life you’ve lived. True to its memoir/essay source genre, the show mirrors real, lived experiences. Not all moments point toward a central theme or plot but rather form a constellation of stories that embody the human experience, in all its joy and despair.
When we meet Clare (the Strayed stand-in), her husband has just kicked her out, she’s clashing with her daughter, and she’s sleeping at the nursing home where she works. It’s not the kind of life one pictures an advice-column writer leading, and Clare feels the same way. But as we watch her piece together the shreds of her life and find meaning in the process, it’s clear that these are exactly the stories the advice-seekers need to hear.
Kathryn Hahn anchors the series with messy and grounded charisma. If you saw Hahn’s performance in Mrs. Fletcher, you’ll be rewarded by her in this series–another flawed, yearning, and electrically alive woman and mother. And if you’re one of the lucky few who caught The Wilds, you’ll enjoy Sarah Pidgeon as the younger Clare at 22, who matches Hahn’s rough-and-tumble charm and carries it through moments when her grief is much fresher. The two performances come together to form a rich portrait of a writer whose difficult life informs her poignant essays.
If the whole affair sounds like a buzzkill, it’s decidedly not. Like in life, misery pairs with laughter, and grief pairs with absurdity. It’s full of scenes that are funny because of their stranger-than-fiction specificities, like when young Clare has to run to the store to buy underwear for her mother to be buried in because the funeral home won’t let her go commando, or adult Clare’s misadventure with an Uber Pool driver and a waterbed. The result is a series that makes you lean in and revel in its details. Like reading a good memoir, watching Tiny Beautiful Things reminds you you’re not alone, and even suggests that your experiences, no matter how small, might be worth sharing.
Tiny Beautiful Things promises small and delivers big—one woman’s life refracts into universal ponderings about love, death, and parenting. Come for Kathryn Hahn’s magnetic performance, and stay for the series’ delightful and relatable particularity.
If you want to cry together, watch it with the mother figure in your life. If that sounds too intense, watch it with your memoir-loving friends, aspiring artists and writers, or best yet — by yourself with plenty of space to laugh and cry.
In 2014’s Wild (adapted from Strayed’s memoir) Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl, and Laura Dern plays her mother. Now they’re both executive producers on Tiny Beautiful Things. The Cheryl Strayed cinematic universe runs deep.