Review by Sean Boelman
Stephen King has long stated that Lisey’s Story is one of his favorite novels that he has written, largely due to its personal nature, so it makes sense that he did the screen adaptation himself. However, despite the winning combination of King, director Pablo Larraín (Jackie), and actress Julianne Moore, this exhibits all of the author’s worst tendencies unrestrained.
The series follows the widow of a famous author who confronts the past of her marriage when she is targeted by a dangerous stalker obsessed with her husband’s work. On paper, it sounds like a relatively standard thriller, but in reality it’s biggest issue is that it is anything but, with too many tones and genres clashing with each other.
King’s writing of this series is very all-over-the-place, and it seems like it’s the results of nobody telling him no. There is the core thriller storyline, but also portions that feel like melodrama, psychological horror, supernatural horror, and even fantasy drama. There are definitely some moments in which they come together nicely, but for the most part, it’s inconsistent and scattered.
The other issue with King’s scripting is that it is paced like a novel. There are a lot of flowery details that could have been omitted in bringing it to a serial format, shortening it from eight episodes into six (or perhaps even a single feature-length film). King ultimately gets too lost in weaving through these timelines and worlds for it to be super entertaining.
There is also a frustrating amount of ambiguity in the character development. Although the eponymous protagonist has a compelling arc, all of the supporting characters have questionable motivations and roles in the story. And since the mystery element of the story is the least compelling of them all, this lack of depth is just frustrating.
Julianne Moore is one of the few things that allows this series to function. While it isn’t among her best work, she still brings a lot of emotion to the role that will invest the character in the story. On the other hand, nearly everyone in the supporting cast, including Dane DeHaan, Clive Owen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Joan Allen, is over-the-top.
Larraín’s visual prowess also makes this series a lot more interesting than it would otherwise be. A lot of Larraín’s work in the past has stood out because of the way in which it adds a dash of color and surrealism to a realistic world, so it was certainly interesting to get the chance to see him work on something far less grounded from the start.
Lisey’s Story has a lot of great talent involved, and they manage to keep the series going at a passable rate. There is no denying that King is an amazing novelist, but it can be argued that his writing style when unchecked is more suited to the page than the screen.
Lisey’s Story streams on Apple TV+ beginning June 4, with new episodes released subsequent Fridays. All eight episodes reviewed.