Real and raw: Tiny Beautiful Things review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Based on the best-selling collection by Cheryl Strayed, “Tiny Beautiful Things” follows Clare (Kathryn Hahn), a foundering writer who becomes an advice columnist while her own life is falling apart. 

At the start of the series, Clare’s marriage to Danny (Quentin Plair) is barely there after he kicks her out; her teenage daughter Rae (Tanzyn Crawford) cannot stand the sight of her mother; and her once-promising writing career is non-existent. Her life is in shambles, and Clare is lost in what her life has ended up being versus what she thought it would be. Visited by an old writing friend, he encourages Clare to take up the Dear Sugar mantle from him and become an advice columnist. Reluctantly agreeing, Clare’s life unfolds in a complex fabric of memory as she explores the most pivotal and painful moments in her life, and through Sugar, she connects to her readers in a raw and honest voice that tries to show people are not beyond rescue and are not just their pain.

The series flashbacks throughout the series to different points in Clare’s life. From the happy Clare (the younger version played by Sarah Pidgeon) in her 20s, yet poor Clare, with her mother (Merritt Wever) and brother, until her mother is diagnosed with lung cancer and then dies from lung cancer. Her mother’s death sends Clare spiralling in grief and guilt, resulting in destructive sex and a life of drug use and reckless decisions. 

Danny Kincade (Quentin Plair) and Clare (Kathryn Hahn). (Photo by: Jessica Brooks/Hulu)

The first five episodes are a slog to get through. It shows the turmoil of Clare and how deep grief can impact you and affect every crevice of your life for years to come, but it is repetitive in the first few episodes and seems lost without a point. There isn’t much of Clare looking at her past or using Dear Sugar as intended, but it is carried by the warmth and heart of Hahn. Without her, it would be an exhausting watch as every character neglects to notice Clare struggling or does not even consider her hardships except the one friend who bestows Dear Sugar on her.

The last few episodes provide a better structure and allow Clare to work through a lot of things she has been holding back that are painful, true, and if you have ever experienced deep grief so life-changing like Clare, it will be hard to watch but so easy to resonate with and understand. There is a pathway for her to use Dear Sugar and her experiences to let go of some deep guilt that has eaten her up in regard to her late mother, but it takes too long to get to any point about it.

Jess (Johnny Berchtold), Frankie (Merritt Wever), and Young Clare (Sarah Pidgeon). (Photo by: Jessica Brooks/Hulu)

The best thing about this series is the performances from Kathryn Hahn and Merrit Wever. Hahn manages to expertly tow the line between emotionally raw and realistic with moments of comedy that come naturally. Wever radiates warmth and acceptance in the scenes from the past, including a beautiful moment between the two as Clare learns to let go of the guilt yet still carry grief. The ending of the series will resonate to people who have lost loved ones young and how they struggle with that grief into adulthood. 

The series is a touching one that will emote a lot by the end but is not worth the struggle of the first few episodes to get to the emotional end. As for the MVC, that would have to be the protagonist, Clare. Not only does Clare drive the narrative—it is the heart of the story but she does not shy away from her own mistakes and takes accountability for her actions. 

Young Lucas (Owen Painter) and Young Clare (Sarah Pidgeon). (Photo by: Jessica Brooks/Hulu)

Tiny Beautiful Things premiers 7th April on Hulu and Disney+.


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