Review: Bette Midler is a tour-de-force in ‘Coastal Elites’

Chicago Tribune
HBO ‘Coastal Elites’ review: Dispatches from the hell of early 2020, starring Bette Midler, Sarah Paulson, and Issa Rae
SEP 08, 2020

Bette Midler in Coastal Elites
<span class=has inline color has white color><strong>bette midler in coastal elites<strong><span>

The five monologues making up Paul Rudnick’s “Coastal Elites” were originally planned for an early 2020 New York staging, to be taped for a later HBO special.

The COVID-19 pandemic preempted the “live theater” part of those plans. This gave Rudnick and his director, Jay Roach, of “Recount,” “Game Change” and the recent Megyn Kelly/Roger Ailes docudrama “Bombshell,” time to update the material to respond directly to the early months of the coronavirus crisis. It made sense, given the monologues’ primary subject: How Trump and his supporters are setting the tone for these ever-threatening days.

“Five desperate confessions from people barely coping with the new abnormal” is how Rudnick frames “Coastal Elites,” which starts with “Lock Her Up,” a tour-de-force for Bette Midler. She’s in a Manhattan police station, relaying the reasons why she’s been hauled into an unseen policeman.

Her character, Miriam Nessler, is a retired public school teacher and full-time culture vulture, who has as much to say about the difference between reading the New York Times in prints vs. online as she does about the MAGA hat-sporting man with whom she got into it, in an East Village coffee shop.

Here, both writer and actress shine. Rudnick makes Miriam a paragon of New York survival instinct. Midler’s character is hilariously snobby about anyone not from the five-borough region, as when she dismisses “flyover states” with the priceless caveat: “I mean, I fly over them, but I wave!”

Even in the more uneven and discursive monologues, the performers take care of business. In “Supergay,” a struggling actor (Dan Levy of “Schitt’s Creek”) debriefs his substitute Zoom therapist on his recent, fraught audition for the world’s first openly gay superhero movie. Levy makes every unheard question (we, the audience, are his therapist) seem truly spontaneous, even when the writing turns earnest and a mite soft. In each of the five, director Roach allows the monologues to run in long stretches, interrupted by a few skip-forward moments.

“The Blonde Cloud” finds Issa Rae (”Insecure”) catching up via Zoom with a fellow boarding school graduate. Both women were a year behind Ivanka Trump, the premise has it, and Rae’s character processes the odd experience of recently visiting the Trump White House with her brokerage firm founder dad, at Trump’s behest. I suppose if any monologue in “Coastal Elites” flirts with character assassination, it’s this one, but the weakness here is more a matter of simple overwriting.

Here, Rudnick lays his feelings bare by way of one exasperated liberal braving unfriendly waters. Paulson’s terrific, and when the monologue takes a serious turn, it sticks; it feels authentic and plausible, not ginned-up for pathos.

Rudnick added a fifth for the HBO version, showcasing ’Unbelievable” and “Booksmart” star Kaitlyn Dever as a Wyoming nurse relocated temporarily to Manhattan in April 2020 to deal with the pandemic at its worst. Not that it matters, or that it was on Rudnick’s or Roach’s mind, but this one’s the one that might actually lower the emotional defenses of the average Trump supporter in the average flyover state.

Can we really fault any writer, or anyone with an audience, for not seeking common ground with The Other Side right now? I’m still wrestling with that one. Roach handles the pacing and rhythm of all five beautifully, as do the actors. It is very difficult, however, to make such politically toxic recent history work as comic truth with a serious dimension. “Coastal Elites” manages it just enough.

CountryAlso Known AsRelease DateDetails
USAN/ASep 12, 2020HBO
Russia????? ?????????Sep 13, 2020(Internet)
SpainLas élites de la costaSep 13, 2020(Internet)

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5 thoughts on “Review: Bette Midler is a tour-de-force in ‘Coastal Elites’

  1. Well, I just had to chime in to say how wonderful this HBO special was. More than monologues, I think soliloquys is more on point. Amazing to speak non-stop for about 20 minutes each, without a cut or edit (I’ll have to look again more closely, but I didn’t notice any), or without any appearance of reading lines from a cue card. Yet, they came from the heart, without feeling forced or contrived.

    Bette certainly sets the pace, as it comes full circle back to her at the end. A brilliant effort, with brilliant casting. I see Emmy nominations for this one, and specifically an Emmy nom for Bette. The context and content is so multi-layered, I think it begs repeated viewings.

    1. Thanks, I was anxious to hear what you thought and Dammit I just realized it was last night it was on, not tonight. OMG either it’s this move but my mind is just not working right. I hope they’re showing repeats. I can’t believe I missed it xx

  2. Excellent performances by all actors – but it all starts with Bette for a reason; she steals the show, as always (- even in the (too many) weak movies she was in). This one is really good movie!
    I have been very sceptical when I first heard about the project, since so many of Paul Rudnick’s movies lack something that keep the whole movies together. Here, he does what he does best; his script is sharp, witty, poignant and full of terriffic one-liners. No “story-telling” needed.
    I am quite sure that Bette will receive a Golden Globe nomination for this. And of course, we still have her as Bella Abzug in a week or two: another award-contender. I am curious what’s up next: some say it might be just a bunch of Hocus Pocus… (I know you don’t think it’s happening; that’s why I had to mention it 😉

    1. And next year she could actually be up for 2 Emmys – The Politician for Season 2 and Coastal Elites!

      I know you know Every fucking day I see the same old teasing about Hocus Pocus. Some legitimate sites are reporting talks and that I can believe, but I think people will be disappointed in that it might be not what they’re expecting. But for now, I’m going to say nothing will come of it! I’m a party pooper, but I’ll be glad if it does happen.

  3. I really hope this airs in the UK! From the previews it didn’t look like it was going to be that good, but you guys and this above review have gotten me very excited!

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