Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Close to Me, on Sundance Now

If Jo Harding had to lose a year to amnesia, her most recent would be the one to forget. Her dog died, she finally checked her dementia-plagued father into a care-home, and she bitterly quarreled with both her son and her best friend. It is unclear whether it is any consolation, but she also suspects she was having an affair. With whom, she has no idea. Bits and pieces will come back to her in Angela Pell’s six-part adaptation of Amanda Reynolds’ novel, Close to Me, which premieres tomorrow on Sundance Now.

Harding took a bad step on her staircase and suddenly one year was gone. (Honestly, the disorienting tile pattern of their foyer could make anyone swoon.) Or was she pushed? That is what she starts to suspect, even though the doctors warn her she will be a bit spacy and “disinhibited” for a while. Frankly, it seems like she was always a little blunt, at least judging from the confused flashbacks. Regardless, she will be a lot for her husband Rob to handle. He was the one who found her bleeding at the bottom of the staircase and he has been acting super-squirrely ever since she came to.

In terms of tone, Pell’s adaptation is like a more sexually frank Mary Higgins Clark thriller. It is very much a woman’s story and a domestic setting, but the relatively small circle of characters rather limits the potential field of suspects. Rather awkwardly, Jo Harding can really be a pill, both pre- and post-accident. After five and a half episodes with her, we were almost expecting a meta revelation, in which we learn it was a group of exasperated viewers who pushed her down the stairs. It is also unclear whether this was an intentional strategy to play up her status as an unreliable narrator or some dubious characterization choices.

Granted, Connie Nielsen is a convincing paranoid emotional wreck as Harding, but the more we learn about her, the less sympathetic she gets. Conversely, Christopher Eccleston (the former Doctor Who) is almost too sympathetic as Rob Harding, to the degree that it unbalances the series, especially given the suspicion and shade that are cast upon him. Likewise, Nick Blood is so creepy and surly as their daughter Sash’s arrogant boyfriend Thomas, it is hard to buy into any of the dramatic functions his character is supposed to serve.

All six episodes were helmed by veteran British TV director Michael Samuels (
The Windemere Children), so there is a consistency of style, but he should have ripped-off Hitchcock more and Lifetime original movies less. There is some energetic melodrama and Eccleston is great, but there is nothing here that will shock or surprise you. Moderately trashy and mildly diverting, Close to Me is not recommended to any great extent when it starts streaming tomorrow (12/16) on Sundance Now (and AMC+).