The Feisty Female Gaze of HBO's ‘Mrs. Fletcher’

In HBO limited series "Mrs. Fletcher", Kathryn Hahn plays the title character in a not-so-unfamiliar tale: With her son off at college, a single mom gets her first taste of the empty nest

click to enlarge Kathryn Hahn as Eve Fletcher in HBO's "Mrs. Fletcher" - Sarah Shatz/HBO
Sarah Shatz/HBO
Kathryn Hahn as Eve Fletcher in HBO's "Mrs. Fletcher"

Kathryn Hahn is comedic gold. Early in her career, she stood out for her scene-stealing sidekick characters in TV and movie comedies like Step Brothers, Parks and Recreation and, in one of her first roles, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Bawdy and ballsy, Hahn seems like she would fit right in with the women of early-2000s Saturday Night Live, with her memorable characters and penchant for improv (and not just because she bears a striking resemblance to Ana Gasteyer). But she’s also adept at portraying more nuanced, genuine roles — her take on a rabbi in Transparent is a powerful performance in which she shines in a whole new light. 

In HBO limited series Mrs. Fletcher (10:30 p.m., Sundays) — based on Tom Perrotta’s (The Leftovers) bestselling novel — Hahn plays the title character in a not-so-unfamiliar tale: With her son off at college, a single mom gets her first taste of the empty nest.

Eve Fletcher has long filled the role of provider and protector: as a primary caregiver to her son after her divorce, and even at work as a senior center director, where she’s on the front lines alongside families with older loved ones.

When she’s not overwhelmed with work, Eve — like her friends that are also moms of young adults —  has no idea what to do with herself. So naturally, she discovers porn! In media and real life, there are so many hang-ups about women being sexual — especially mothers — but Mrs. Fletcher blows right past that while still keeping a woman’s perspective — the female gaze — at its center. Daring sexual scenes are handled delicately, and Eve is sexy because she feels empowered, not because a man tells her she is.

We watch her navigate singledom, and something always reels her in for better or worse. When set up on a perfectly nice date after much debate, Eve is turned off by the notion of settling into a comfortable old married couple. When she finds herself mingling with a much younger guy, she ends up defaulting into mom mode — but saving the day at the same time. It’s not a question of whether Eve will end up with a guy — or gal — but if she can find happiness and fulfillment in this new chapter.

On the other side of the Mrs. Fletcher coin is Eve’s son Brendan (Jackson White) who’s eager to fly the coop and escape his loving (s)mother despite the fact that he’s had it totally made. He doesn’t appreciate his doting mom and is far more interested in winning the affections of his less present dad, who’s busy with a new wife and kid. He’s a not-so-special brand of Gen-Z dick that’s had access to porn as long as he can imagine and is immersed in a hookup culture that welcomes rough sex but never catching feelings. 

As he heads off to college, he proves that it’s not just his mom or women he doesn’t respect — he doesn’t really have respect for anyone or anything. And while in some high school circles that kind of apathy is built into a too-cool persona, it’s certainly not the case for most young people today. Brendan finds that even the typically popular kids like athletes and partiers on campus care about social issues, something he can’t even begin to muse on, making him feel truly alone, which frankly puts him at risk for dangerous behavior. No one quite realizes this.

While I find his character the least sympathetic and least relatable, I am fully invested in Brendan’s journey. Hahn gives a beautiful performance of a character anyone would feel for, but While reveals an ugly but all too familiar kind of man. Can the woke kids at college save him in ways his previous peers, parents or authority figures haven’t? 

Coming-of-age tales often follow kids on the precipice of adulthood, but Mrs. Fletcher shows how two people with very different trajectories can experience their own identity crises, sexual awakenings and the need to be loved at any point in life.

Contact Jac Kern: @jackern

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