Friday, June 04, 2021

Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story

Stephen King often cites his 2006 novel as one of his favorites, but in some ways, it is also one of his most precious. It is filled with Carroll-esque terms like "Boo’ya Moon,” the fantasy world his characters slip in and out of and the “Bool” treasure hunts the late novelist Scott Landon used to devise. There is even a sailing ship filled with children who never grow-up in Boo’ya Moon. The tone is still dark and foreboding when Lisey Landon discovers a final “Bool” her husband left behind for her in the eight-episode Lisey’s Story, adapted by the author and entirely directed by Pablo Larrain, which premieres today on Apple TV.

Lisey Landon is still struggling to come to terms with her husband’s death. She saved his life once, by taking a shovel to the stalker who shot him. Frankly, he probably should have died then, but he husband always said “Landons are fast healers.” Maybe that should be “her husband always says,” because Lisey Landon is starting to confuse the present with a rush of memories. It is even harder for viewers to distinguish the time periods.

Landon’s reveries are precipitated by a series of crises. Her emotionally fragile sister Amanda Debusher has apparently broken from reality and lapsed into a near-catatonic state. Rather fortuitously, her late husband anticipated this and pre-arranged for her admission to a long-term care facility. Meanwhile, another psycho-fan starts harassing her, demanding she release her husband’s unpublished papers.

Some of the best King adaptations have been limited TV series, such as Mick Garris’s original
The Stand, Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, and Richard Price’s adaptation of The Outsider, so there were a lot of high hopes for Lisey Story. Unfortunately, the auteurist Larrain is not well-suited to dark fantastical material and King once again proves to be his own worst editor. There is no question Lisey’s Story should have been half its current length—maybe even a quarter.

However, if you want to watch a spectral Clive Owen skulk and brood in a hoodie than King’s adaptation will be your catnip, Time and again, he and Larrain bring us back to Boo’ya Moon or flashback to another horrific episode from his trying childhood, in scenes that should have been combined and compressed.

As a result of all the flashing-back and strolls through New Agey forests, Larrain lets most of the tension and suspense generated by the stalker plotline dissipate. It also causes a lot of confusion, especially since Julianne Moore’s title character apparently never aged a day in all her years with Landon. That seems rather unlikely, especially considering what he and Debusher put her through.

Ironically, some of the best work in
Lisey’s Story comes from Jennifer Jason Leigh as the no-nonsense third sister, Darla. She always kicks up the energy level, even though her character often feels like an afterthought. In contrast, poor Joan Allen mostly stares off into space as Debusher. Moore is well-cast and certainly has her moments as the title character. Viewers will lose patience with her need to re-learn every revelation several times over, but that is really a function of questionable editing.

However, Owen looks like he thinks he is playing a Jedi Knight. Whenever he appears, you know the show’s momentum is about to come to a screeching halt (again, this is more due to slack editing and helming). Dane DeHaan is certainly creepy as the obsessive stalker, but his soulless, dead-eyed persona is a far-cry from a villain like Annie Wilkes in
Misery, who could carry a film with the sheer force of her ferocity.

It is intriguing to watch Landon follow the “Bool” clues left by her husband before his death, but the fantasy world and the is-this-real-or-just-a-retreat-into-her-subconscious interludes quickly grow tiresome. Like its protag,
Lisey’s Story needed to live more in the here-and-now. Not recommended, Lisey’s Story starts streaming today (6/4) on Apple TV. (Instead, catch up with The Outsider on HBO or Salem’s Lot on Shudder).