HBO's I Know This Much Is True Is 'Relentlessly Miserable'

At least the actors deliver
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2020 9:07 AM CDT

The HBO mini-series I Know This Much Is True will have you doing double-takes as Mark Ruffalo plays not just Dominick Birdsey, a man at the center of a possibly cursed family, but also his schizophrenic twin brother Thomas, who chops off his own hand. That's just one of many tragedies director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) brings to the screen over six hours in this series based on Wally Lamb's 1998 book. What critics are saying:

  • "Ruffalo is dependably good throughout, delineating Dominick's anger and weariness … and, without much help from the script, getting across Thomas' helpless pain," writes Mike Hale at the New York Times. He also compliments Archie Panjabi, Kathryn Hahn, and Juliette Lewis but feels the series "promises more than it delivers." "Eventually the story collapses in on itself, settling for the sentimental formulas it's been pretending it was above."
  • Ruffalo "tucks into his double task with respectable intensity." But much of the series "plays as miserablist melodrama," telling of "a towering wall of hardship" that "borders on the sensational," Richard Lawson writes at Vanity Fair. "It's hard to tell what I Know This Much Is True really wants to be about until the very end, when it offers resolutions that don't quite satisfy, or directly answer, all that came before."

  • Alan Sepinwall at Rolling Stone gives the series two stars out of five. Rosie O'Donnell, as a mental health professional, "may never have given a better performance," and Ruffalo "may earn an Emmy." But "watching this depressing miniseries is a slog," Sepinwall writes. It's "so relentlessly, almost proudly, miserable at every possible turn that, after a while, I began looking at the project as an unexpected form of public service. I would depart its world each time and feel a little bit better about the current state of my own life."
  • John Anderson faults the director's "lack of restraint" more than the "downbeat nature." While "almost everyone is giving a career-defining performance," Cianfrance "wants to push the envelope to the ripping-and-shredding stage," he writes at the Wall Street Journal. And at one point, "at which the actors' dignity is at stake … Cianfrance comes perilously close to casting it aside in pursuit of what he seems to think is artistic risk."
(More television review stories.)

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