REVIEW: ‘The Lying Lives Of Adults’ Doesn’t Hold Water

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The Lying Lives of Adults - But Why Tho

The Italian-language Netflix Original series The Lying Lives of Adults, based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante is all about love, lies, and sex. Starring Giordana Marengo as Giovanna, six episodes takes the viewer through a family thrown into discord and a teenager lost between two worlds. But ultimately, it falls short of satisfying either of these throughlines.

Giovanna is a smart kid but a bad student. She’s an iconoclast whose personality you can’t discern between self-aware irony or a genuine affection for standing out in dress and manner. Her parents are well-off liberal intellectuals that mean well but tip her off to something amiss when her father starts describing Giovanna as beginning to look too much like her estranged aunt Vittoria (Valeria Golino). At first, she fixates on believing this means she’s turning physically ugly. But as she pries about her aunt and her father’s relationship with her, Giovanna comes to discover the resemblance is much more about their personalities. Vittoria lives in a poor part of town and has a different approach to life, politics, and relationships than Giovanna’s parents do.

When Giovanna first meets Vittoria for herself, two things are seared into her mind completely: that she must experience good sex as soon as possible, and that adults are all liars and you just need to look for their tells. So as Giovanna finds the lies between her parents, she starts to push herself away from their world and her friends within it in exchange for time spent and relationships with her newfound family and their social circles. Of course, everything eventually comes to a head and some big family drama ensues.

Some great 90s costuming, music choices, and beautiful scenery help soften this sometimes tense show up. I was impressed with some of the swings between deep emotion and deadpan that Marengo pulls off in her acting debut—especially the latter. It’s also sharply written, with a load of dialogue moments that give great breadth to Giovanna and Vittora while making their true selves harder and harder to discern. You get a lot of versions of each character as they try on or reveal alternate skins, and each iteration is performed with a lot of life. But while all of The Lying Lives of Adults’ approaches to love, lies, and sex possess solid foundations, I just don’t feel like they’re all equally and fully built upon.

When infidelity threatens to tear Giovanna’s family apart, there are moments where the show does well exploring the notion that love need not always look exactly the way we expect it to. But there’s so much well-acted bitterness that in the end, I feel like the show is espousing a belief that love is useless in its fickleness. Love constantly manifests materially in the show, between a family heirloom passed between women as a symbol of control over one another, or confusing messaging over whether love requires the physical body of another to manifest.

The lies are mostly portrayed well. There’s a good drama to the lies that go on among the adults. The narration is unreliable because it exclusively follows Giovanna, so we can’t tell when adults are lying or not. But Giovanna becomes an excellent liar herself, becoming basically impossible to read emotionally after a certain point. But where the show begins with a scene that gets repeated out of time to emphasize what really happened versus the version Giovanna told her father, it never implements the same kind of trick again.

The closest thing to it is a late-series reveal about Giovanna’s parents and their friends that feels less impactful than I think the creators may have anticipated, given how much it was telegraphed. Or, it was telegraphed on purpose but simply never came up until that episode, in which case, the creators weren’t lying to the audience as I felt they were trying to, but instead just fell flat in characterizing the parents fully from the beginning. I was intrigued by the lies and lack of reliable narration at first, but by the end, everything just felt like a malaise of dishonesty to the point that I no longer particularly cared what was true or not.

The sex of it all is rocky too. First, you have to put aside that the age of consent in Italy is much lower than in the United States and you just have to somewhat ignore discomfort over the age differences I assume exists between certain characters. But while some relationships and lusts of Giovanna’s perfectly fit the awkward teenage experience of having first sexual encounters with crummy men, and just as well satisfy the awakening to sexual self-empowerment she’s going through, there’s a big queer question mark that is done little justice for me.

A brief element introduced to Giovanna’s relationship with her best friend is that they apparently kiss a lot, and her best friend’s sister seems uncomfortable with this. This isn’t explored again until basically the last minute in a way that feels utterly out of the blue and merely a dissatisfying nod to a larger element explored in the source material. Where the show chooses to be coy about queerness or non-heterosexual sex, it misses out on the opportunity to draw a finer bow on each of the topics of love, lies, and sex. Instead, it’s just an odd half-hearted conclusion that left me unsure what Giovanna had learned along her journey, and thereby, unsure what it was I was meant to take away either. I’m left with some good questions to ponder, don’t get me wrong. Just not as many satisfying answers as I feel the show could have delivered.

The Lying Lives of Adults offers some warring perspectives on love, lies, and sex from people whose often unexpected answers are ill-equipped to be shared. Its main actress pulls a lot of weight and will leave you thinking hard. You just won’t leave with as many answers as you might like.

The Lying Lives of Adults is streaming now on Netflix.


The Lying Lives of Adults
  • 6.5/10
    Rating - 6.5/10
6.5/10

TL;DR

The Lying Lives of Adults offers some warring perspectives on love, lies, and sex from people whose often unexpected answers are ill-equipped to be shared. Its main actress pulls a lot of weight and will leave you thinking hard. You just won’t leave with as many answers as you might like.

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