Kathryn Hahn Challenges Ageism and Gender Stereotypes in ‘Mrs. Fletcher’
“Mrs. Fletcher” is HBO’s latest dip into the lonely mind of American suburbia. The usual ingredients are all here. What remains of the middle class live in comfy homes, send their kids off to college and then secretly indulge in sexual fantasies and hook-ups with big age gaps, all the while pondering the meaning of life. But because this series is spawned from the mind of author Tom Perrotta, who is also the showrunner, it has a unique substance to it. The narrative mixes ageing in America, and the influence of pornography, to present characters both complex and insightful, even when the neighborhood feels all too familiar.
45-year-old Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn) is struggling with her son Brendan (Jackson White) going off to college. A single parent, Eve is one of those lovingly overbearing moms who demands Brendan text once a week while he’s away. She works at a nursing home where the maternal touch comes in handy, even with a particular elderly patient who obsessively watches porn and has a habit of masturbating during group events. Brendan is himself a bit of a jerk, the classic popular high school guy who sleeps with a hot girl and then ghosts her afterwards. But mother and son find themselves in quite the transitional moments. Eve joins a personal essay writing class just as she herself begins to dabble in watching internet porn. Before long she finds herself attracted to 19-year-old classmate Julian (Owen Teague) who obviously has a crush on her. Meanwhile in college Brendan suddenly finds himself the outcast in a different kind of environment. When he starts genuinely liking a sharp girl named Chloe (Jasmine Cephas Jones), Brendan learns a hard lesson in how aping porno isn’t every woman’s dream.
The surroundings and characters of “Mrs. Fletcher,” for now a 7-episode limited series, will be recognizable to anyone who’s seen HBO’s existential takes on suburbia from Alan Ball’s “Here and Now” to the brilliant adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s own “The Leftovers.” What makes “Mrs. Fletcher” still work is that it comes from strong source material (a novel by Perrotta) and features a wonderfully confused, struggling performance by Kathryn Hahn. An actress capable of flowing from drama to humor, Hahn turns Eve into the embodiment of modern suburban angst, behaving like a smothering mom while indulging in activities considered taboo. Directing the pilot is also renowned director Nicole Holofcener, director of “Orange is the New Black” and “Enough Said,” among other notable works. Hahn and Perrotta recently shared with Entertainment Voice about conjuring the simple yet penetrating vision of “Mrs. Fletcher.”
“I saw Tom Perrota’s name on the script, I didn’t know yet that Nicole Holofcener was doing the pilot, but I saw this woman I hadn’t played before, I felt her loneliness and bravery,” said Hahn, “I just wanted to play her.” She attracted to Eve’s defiance of the age biases and identity labels imposed by society, particularly on women. As Eve begins to embrace another side to her sexuality and her feelings for Julian there’s a sense she’s also leaving behind the idea of what a suburban mom is supposed to be. It takes a bold friend like Amanda (Katie Kershaw) to tell her she’s doing nothing wrong. “There are so many women who’ve held on to the identities of past relationships, there are so many women who have identities prescribed to them by a narrow set of minds. They think that after they’ve reached a certain age that it’s some kind of expiration date. That makes me sad,” said Hahn.
“I often push back a little in the sense that I’m not examining the suburbs, I’m examining people who tend to live in the suburbs,” said Perrotta, “I would say this is an American story of the sexual culture of this moment. College campuses are a specific world onto themselves for example. But it’s also generational. I wanted to talk about the way different generations behave sexually and how the paradigm that Eve was raised in no longer exists. She has to adjust to this new world while reconnecting to her younger self.” The generational influence of porn is also a factor Perrotta uses to show the divide in intimate behavior, not always with the best results. When Chloe performs oral sex on Brendan he becomes so aggressive, even throwing in some porno buzzwords, she ends up kicking him out of her dorm room. He doesn’t seem to understand what he did wrong because a man his age has been conditioned to see sex primarily through the internet lens.
At its core “Mrs. Fletcher” is also about being comfortable with your identity in contemporary America. Is it wrong for Eve to get involved with Julian? Why would it be? Eve’s trans writing professor Margo (Jen Richards), also struggles with a student, Curtis (Ifádansi Rashad) feeling attracted yet hesitant. “Her name is literally Mrs. Fletcher even though she hasn’t been married for ten years,” said Hahn in emphasizing societal labels, “I think I drew from all of that.”
Hahn confirmed that the vibe on set added to the show’s unique sense of real lives coming together. “This group is just a bunch of peaches. I love them all to death. As for Tom I have deep empathy for a novelist who sees his character go from a book to the screen, there’s a bunch of different steps. Imagine something you’ve imagined in your head become this flesh-and-blood human being with actual thoughts and agendas of her own. It was a true collaboration. It was also hard, tough work.”
“Because I adapt my own work the hard work has already been done in the novel-writing phase,” said Perrotta about turning his novel into a show. “It’s hard work but it’s not imagining the world into existence. It’s about crafting the story into this new medium.”
“Hopefully people will leave the show feeling a little more brave,” said Hahn about her hopes for the overall impact of “Mrs. Fletcher.” “I hope they leave a little more empathetic and just having the courage to speak to who they are, and to own who they are.”
“Mrs. Fletcher” season one premieres Oct. 27 and airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.