As audiences will soon discover, this world is filled with Tiny Beautiful Things, as a new limited series launches on Disney+ from 7 April, seeking to share one woman’s journey towards salvation as anonymous agony aunt Sugar.
Adapted by the Emmy nominated Liz Tigelaar (Little Fires Everywhere), from the novel by columnist Cheryl Strayed, this character driven series showcases the talents of Kathryn Hahn (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) in all her glory.
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As Clare Pierce, a care home manager who spends her time battling unresolved emotional trauma, marital issues, and day to day life, this performance is peppered with subtleties which ultimately come together and give this show genuine gravitas.
That audiences first encounter a post-party Clare breaking into the family home, only to be confronted by husband Danny (Quentin Plair) and daughter Rae (Tanzyn Crawford), makes it clear that Tiny Beautiful Things might be an ironic title. Not only because there is nothing delicate about this absentee wife and mother as she falls into the room, but also as it offers up a character with few redeeming features.
Following a stilted confrontation which ends in expulsion from their home, Clare sits alone outside her workplace, seeking solace and an empty bed as she tries to forget their conversation. In terms of awkward openings, it hits home hard, even if Kathryn Hahn still manages to wrangle empathy from an unwitting audience with minimal effort.
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Over the remaining episodes Clare is forced to confront some harsh home truths, face off against Danny’s extended family, while also defending her brother Lucas (Johnny Berchtold). However, that show runner Liz Tigelaar offers up artistic expression and emotional release as agony aunt Sugar, opens up other emotional avenues and ensures that this show continues to resonant throughout.
However, those connections hit hardest when played in parallel alongside flashbacks, featuring a young Clare (Sarah Pidgeon) and young Lucas (Owen Painter), dealing in isolation with their mother Frankie’s (Merritt Wever) terminal cancer. As memories of that trauma start to infiltrate the present day, and Clare begins drawing on those repressed emotions in prose, Tiny Beautiful Things really hits its stride.
In many ways, this show is a tag team effort between Kathryn Hahn and Sarah Pidgeon, who represent two sides of the same coin. There is such a self-assurance to the latter performance, that separating one from another in terms of plaudits feels redundant. Similarly, Owen Painter proves equally adept at bringing the younger Lucas to life opposite his fictional sister, which only goes to make present day dramas more poignant.
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When that approach is also applied to the early stages of Clare and Danny’s relationship, through the eerily accurate interpretation of young actor Stevonte Hart playing opposite Sarah Pigeon, things get kicked up a notch yet again. With each moment which passes in the past tense, any scenes between husband and wife in the present subconsciously force audiences into personal reflections of their own.
Much of what makes Tiny Beautiful Things work beyond some peerless work from Kathryn Hahn and this faultless ensemble, comes down to what it asks of its audience. Just as Clare is forced to evaluate the choices she has made in relation to her marriage and extended family, so it is that anyone watching might find themselves considering something similar. However, beyond the impact of these deeply personal themes on a captive audience, there is one pivotal performance which really helps hammer home the emotional point.
Emmy award winner Merritt Wever (Nurse Betty) may only play a small role as mother to Clare and Lucas, but her presence can be felt throughout this show. Through Frankie, she exudes such an all-encompassing sense of safety as matriarch, that her illness, and the dignity with which it is handled within this performance leaves an impact. A loss so profound, that audiences will find it easy to empathise with Clare, who decades on is still dealing with the aftermath.
Ultimately, loss is the biggest theme which runs throughout this show and disrupts every relationship Clare tries to have in her life. Beyond the emotional impact, this show also addresses loss in terms of opportunities, as everyone makes sacrifices at pivotal points on their journey and live with them for a lifetime.
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For those seeking a series which has more to say about the choices we make than most, Tiny Beautiful Things might just be the distraction they need. Others might wish to steer clear, choosing instead to avoid an evaluation of those choices even in fictional terms.
Either way, there is no denying that this Disney+ original series speaks to each in its own way, offering up a tour de force performance from Kathryn Hahn in the process.
Tiny Beautiful Things is available to stream from 7 April on Disney+.