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‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ ponders growth and healing through introspection

Graphic by Ethan Nelson

Released last Friday, Hulu’s new drama “Tiny Beautiful Things,” tells an interesting and complex story about self-improvement, family ties and letting go of the past. The show, starring a cast of lesser-known actors, is based on the best-selling collection of the same title by author Cheryl Strayed.

The eight-episode mini-series follows Clare (Kathryn Hahn), a down-on-her-luck middle-aged writer trying to save her marriage to Danny (Quentin Plair) and meet her career goals. After being propositioned by an old friend, Clare reluctantly agrees to take over as the writer for an anonymous advice column called Sugar.

Each episode is only about 30 minutes, but they are so densely packed that a short break might be warranted halfway through the series. Nevertheless, the show is easy to binge-watch if you have the time.

The most noteworthy aspect of Clare’s story is the flashbacks that are included throughout each episode. They appear often, creating an interesting contrast between present-day Clare and young Clare (Sarah Pidgeon). Sometimes these glances at the past directly correspond with current conflicts, but they can also appear kind of suddenly. The events are often out of order and it’s confusing to put all the pieces of the present and the past together at once.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” showcases an array of themes such as grief, acceptance of the past, forgiving yourself and saluting the life that you didn’t choose. Clare’s grief over her mother’s death is depicted as something she carries with her constantly, with memories popping up at unexpected moments. Hahn is excellent at portraying raw emotions as she discovers coping strategies while raising her daughter, Rae (Tanzyn Crawford).

Crawford exhibits the perfect amount of teenage angst that’s expected from a 16-year-old character struggling socially and trying to find her way in the world.

Perhaps some of the best scenes are those in which reality is shifted and Clare steps into the past to view her younger self persevere through rough patches. Present-day Clare watching young Clare and young Danny (SteVonté Hart) in the hospital after she gives birth to Rae is a particularly heartwarming moment.

Comedy was one thing that was slightly lacking. There needs to be more intentional uses of humor to cut through the pervasive periods of tension. The jokes that are present are too brief and not funny enough. 

In most shows or movies, profanity isn’t something to make a note of, but it’s so widely used in the dialogue that it starts to feel unnatural. When every other word from a given character is an F-bomb, it’s hard to imagine that anyone actually carries a conversation that way.

Overall, it’s hard to say whether Clare’s position as Sugar significantly drives the plot. At the beginning of each episode, Clare sifts through submission letters and by the end, she responds to at least one of them. It’s evident that her responses demonstrate her steady growth and she helps the other person as much as she helps herself; the column just could’ve had more of a central focus at some points.

The viewer is forced to sympathize with Clare who, on the surface, has made poor decisions that landed her in many of the unfortunate circumstances she deals with. However, she is undeniably human, makes her share of mistakes and eventually learns to step out of her own way and move forward so that she can be there for her family and for herself.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” is charming, thought-provoking and intense. Clare isn’t perfect and that’s okay. Watching her sort through her trauma and work toward who she wants to be at nearly fifty years old normalizes the reality that discovering who you are is a lifelong process.

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