‘Big Little Lies’ reviews: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman & Shailene Woodley are ‘extraordinary’

“Big Little Lies,” HBO’s highly anticipated limited series, debuts Sunday, February 19. Adapted from a novel by Liane Moriarty, it’s one of the most highly pedigreed productions of the season, directed by Oscar nominee Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”), written by 10-time Emmy winner David E. Kelley and starring Oscar champs Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman along with Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard, Adam Scott and Oscar nominee Laura Dern. But does it live up to the caliber of its cast and crew?

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The miniseries has received strong reviews from critics thus far, scoring 75 on MetaCritic and 88% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes. The RT critics’ consensus explains, “Bitingly funny and highly addictive, ‘Big Little Lies’ is a twisty, thrilling, enlightening ride led by a first-rate cast.”

Indeed those actors have been getting raves. “The performances crackle,” according to Ken Tucker (Yahoo!). And Sophie Gilbert (The Atlantic) calls the cast “extraordinary.” Singling out individual performers, Sonia Saraiya (Variety) says Kidman is “hauntingly arresting,” and Hank Steuver (Washington Post) says both Kidman and Witherspoon have “outdone themselves.”

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Sonia Saraiya (Variety): “It is difficult to overstate how much Vallee’s direction elevates the slightly pulpy material, so that ‘Big Little Lies’ isn’t wallowing in its own acrimonious plot twists. The limited series has the continuous, clear vision of cinema.”

Sophie Gilbert (The Atlantic): “Throughout its seven episodes, the show shakes up an odd cocktail of social satire, splashy murder mystery, and absorbing emotional drama, and the result is strangely satisfying … The chicklit-ish concept is elevated from the start by Vallee’s artful direction, and by the extraordinary ensemble cast.”

Hank Steuver (The Washington Post): “The series is so exquisitely conceived and structured — and so remarkably acted by a top-notch cast that includes two of Hollywood’s most resolute performers, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon — that the soapy layer quickly rinses away in the first episode.”

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Dave Nemetz (TV Line): “But the great thing about ‘Big Little Lies’ is: The murder is almost beside the point. The vicious battle for power and status waged between the Monterey moms is gripping enough, and serves as a showcase for some fantastic female performances.”

Ken Tucker (Yahoo!): “The damn thing is irresistible. The performances crackle, and each of the lead women forges her own brand of indelible unhappiness. Even the music deserves special praise: The soundtrack is full of shrewdly chosen oldies and new music, ranging from the Mamas & the Papas to Leon Bridges.”

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