8 September 2023

Clare Pierce (Kathryn Hahn) in the series


In French, we say “mail from the heart”. In English, the rubric holder is nicknamed agony aunt (“the aunt of sorrows”). In American, we speak more soberly ofadvice column (“advice section”), and it is from a collection of these texts that Tiny Beautiful Things. There is quite a bit of virtuosity in this adaptation which is akin to transmutation: the advice given to souls in pain here become the milestones of the redemption of a woman who sees the world collapsing around her. Of course, it is she, the lost one, who provides this advice.

The skill of this fictionalization would probably have been in vain if these eight episodes had been deprived of their central interpreter, Kathryn Hahn. The actress, who has just reached superstar status by becoming a witch in the Marvel universe, has, during the last decade, often given substance to the uncertainties, annoyances and calamities that beset women between 40 and 50 years old, in the feature film Private Life (on Netflix), in the series i love dick (on Prime Video) or Mrs. Fletcher (disappeared body and goods in the great cleaning of the HBO catalog).

Here she is Clare Pierce, a writer in her fifties who we meet on board an Uber, drunk, stuffing herself with junk food and lacking in inspiration. Without Kathryn Hahn, the character could remain only an assembly of sufferings, which the flashbacks (it is the excellent Sarah Pidgeon who embodies the young Clare) shell, alternating with the contemporary tribulations of the protagonist.

Solidarity between cripples

With Kathryn Hahn, who bravely wields the energy of her character, for the purposes of self-destruction, revenge, but also creation and repair, Clare becomes obvious. The advice she gives, after having agreed to voluntarily write the mail from the heart of an online literary magazine, is more a testimony of solidarity between cripples than a map of the path to reason. The agony of her marriage, the conflict that opposes her to her adolescent daughter (Tanzyn Crawford), her difficulty in keeping a salaried job are all sources of wisdom from which she shares the benefit of others without quite managing to control the use for personal purposes.

The character borrows a lot from the biography of the author of the book, Cheryl Strayed, who held, from 2009 to 2012, theadvice column from the literary site Tea Rumpus under the pseudonym of Sugar. As readers and viewers of Wildautobiographical story adapted for the cinema by Jean-Marc Vallée (1963-2021), with Reese Witherspoon (producer of this series), Cheryl Strayed’s mother died of overwhelming cancer, at the age of 45.

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