In the wrong hands, Tiny Beautiful Things might have drifted over the line into Lifetime Movie territory. Fortunately, it has the great Kathryn Hahn in the lead as Clare Pierce, a struggling writer trying desperately to keep her life together. It also has Sarah Pidgeon, mirroring Hahn perfectly as a younger version of Clare in flashback. Hahn and Pidgeon, with help from a solid supporting cast, elevate what might otherwise have been a perfectly ordinary dramedy.
Clare is, well, a mess. Nearing fifty, she’s working a dead-end job, abusing alcohol, alienating her daughter Rae (Tanzyn Crawford), and on the verge of shattering her marriage to musician Danny (Quentin Plair). The swirling vortex of Clare’s personal life has derailed her life’s ambition: becoming a great writer. When Clare is presented with the opportunity to take an actual writing job—responding to letters for an advice column—she looks down her nose at the idea. Besides, she can’t imagine anyone less qualified to be giving out advice. Eventually she relents and takes the gig, though, and even with her life falling apart around her, she finds solace in the work—and her unique mix of writing skill and school-of-hard-knocks experience makes her pretty good at it.
Even with its performances, Tiny Beautiful Things does occasionally border on schmaltzy, the “Dear Sugar” narration occasionally spelling out life lessons that might have been more effective as subtext. But it’s a terrific actor’s showcase, especially for Hahn, who leans into her wheelhouse mode as a neurotic hot mess. Clare’s problems and columns are informed by reflections on the past, where Pidgeon convincingly enacts the college-aged Clare during formative experiences. This thread, which largely involves financial stress and a tragic illness for her mother, Frances (Merritt Wever), interacts nicely with the present track, and while the messaging isn’t particularly profound—a celebration of the mundane struggles of personal growth—it’s certainly well rendered. Hahn, Pidgeon, and Wever are awardworthy in the key roles, while Crawford, Plair, Michaela Watkins, Elizabeth Hinkler, Owen Painter, and others round out the cast effectively. It is, perhaps, an inessential watch, but it’s frequently funny and quite emotionally genuine.