Lisey’s Story, adapted by Stephen King from his novel of the same title, is set to debut on AppleTV+ on June 4, 2021. The limited series is a fine adaptation of the source material for those dedicated enough to break through the initial barrier of the first two episodes–more on that in a moment.
For those who are unfamiliar, Lisey’s Story centers on a Lisey (Julianne Moore), a woman whose life begins to unravel after her author husband (Clive Owen) dies. He had quite the ardent fan base, and there are those who think she’s being selfish for locking away his unpublished papers and writing so much so that they’ll do anything to get it. As she continues to deal with a deadly, unbalanced young man (Dan DeHaan), she falls deeper into a rabbit hole trying to understand the shadowy parts of her husband’s former life and the secret place called the Boo’ya Moon that she’s tried so very hard to forget.
The story is told over eight episodes and was adapted for the screen entirely by King with Pablo Larrain (The Club) directing.
I’ll admit I was a little nervous when I first read that King was adapting his own story. It’s not that I think authors shouldn’t do so, but it’s a tricky business. An author can be very precious about their source material to the detriment of adapting for a different medium. What works on the page does not always work on the screen and vice versa.
King has proven in the past his adaptation skills can be hit or miss for his own work. His adaptation of Pet Sematary for the screen was incredible. His adaptation of Maximum Overdrive? Not so much.
Luckily, the author brought his A-game to Lisey’s Story. Yes, it is exhaustively faithful to the source material. The first couple of episodes–I told you we’d come back to them–are almost too dense as he sets up the world and all its players. Thankfully, the episodes will be broadcast across several weeks so there will be time to digest what he gives viewers in those initial outings before tackling the rest.
I cannot stress enough, however, that the density feels necessary. Larrain and King seem to use those episodes to teach their audience how to watch the series, forcing us to question our perceptions of people and places. They give us striking visuals in muted colors with sudden flashes of a blood red moon that capture the eye and the imagination.
Boo’ya Moon in particular is a landscape in which I could lose myself. It is mythic in its scope and in its trappings.
It doesn’t hurt one bit that they have an outstanding cast to tell their story, as well.
Moore is as electric as she is enigmatic, bringing a real subtlety to her performance as Lisey. Her exhaustion and frustration and determination are palpable as she dives deeper into the dark recesses of her husband’s life. Further she and Owen have incredible chemistry onscreen as husband and wife, a point they previously proved in Children of Men.
However, as good as both of them are, they were not the standouts of the series for me. Those accolades go to Dane DeHaan and Joan Allen.
DeHaan’s Jim Dooley is possibly one of King’s most terrifying creations in a decades-long career full of them. His horrific violence is delivered with a measured calm, rarely raising his voice from a monotoned delivery that is creepy on its own. Dooley is not King’s first lethally obsessed fan, but he would most definitely give Misery‘s Annie Wilkes a run for her money.
As for Joan Allen, she is in rare form in Lisey’s Story. Allen is one of those actresses I’ve always thought was underappreciated. She gave an incredible performance in A Good Marriage–another King work–and she goes above and beyond here. Her portrayal of Lisey’s sister, Amanda, is nothing short of a revelation.
Amanda’s past is peppered with bouts of severe mental illness from cutting to catatonia. Her moods and suffering at the hands of that illness combined with the fact that she’s a double–someone who can exist here and in the Boo’ya Moon simultaneously–could easily have made her a caricature. Allen never allows that to happen. She walks an empathetic tightrope throughout the series that keeps the viewer engaged while simultaneously breaking our hearts.
The scenes she shares with Moore and with their other sister, Darla (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are some of the best in the series, and at times, bring a much needed levity to the story.
At its heart, Lisey’s Story is about family and all of the wonderful and terrible things that he word implies. It is about the bonds that tie us together and the tragedies that tear us apart. It shines a light into the dark recesses of grief and loss. It forces us to examine where we come from and what that means for where we’re going.
If there was one thing that did not entirely work for me here, it was the final episode. Yes, I know the old joke about King not being able to stick the landing, but hear me out.
In a slow-burn series that is very dense, the final episode completely bogs down about halfway through. There are about four endings, which is two too many, and it almost lost me during the third. However, King does manage to scoop almost everything back together at the end. It’s not enough to keep you from watching and enjoy the show, but it’s something to be aware of going into it.
Lisey’s Story is set to debut on AppleTV+ on June 4, 2021! If you’re a fan of King, I cannot stress enough that this is a must-see event.