The Daily Telegraph

Nicole Kidman

Why LA is full of beautiful and broken people


Ilike smoothies. Truly, I do. Left to my own devices, I’ll whizz up a green juice in a Nutribulle­t along with the best of them. So when, having just moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2015, I was invited to the Beverly Hills home of a female television executive for “an afternoon smoothie”, I thought little of it.

I’d met the executive through work. We’d got on well and, hearing that I didn’t know that many people in this new city, she’d taken pity on me and told me to come round.

I drove to her house in my beaten-up rental car and parked it on the kerb, alongside a perfectly manicured lawn. A gardener was tending to the flowerbeds. My new friend opened the door in yoga pants and a sweater that managed to look both casual and impeccably sculpted. She ushered me into a large, bright kitchen of marble and chrome where she started throwing chopped-up bananas and dates into a juicer. She added milk (almond, naturally) and then, almost as an afterthoug­ht, asked if I’d like her to put a Xanax in my smoothie. “I’m sorry, what?” I spluttered. “Or if you’d rather something else…” At this point she opened a drawer packed with medicinal-looking bottles and zip-loc bags filled with unidentifi­able tablets. To this day, I’m not entirely sure whether she was joking or not, but I thought of this incident recently while watching the HBO series, Big Little Lies, currently airing on Sky Atlantic.

Big Little Lies stars Reese Witherspoo­n, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley as three restless mothers living in the wealthy enclave of Monterey, California. These women appear to have it all. Their husbands are handsome and successful. Their homes are white clapboard palaces with fire-pits and floor-to-ceiling windows overlookin­g the Pacific Ocean. They have perfectly blowdried hair and cutesy children called Amabella and Ziggy. On the surface at least, their lives appear to be one long advertisem­ent for a high-end lifestyle brand: Goop by way of Elle Deco.

But what makes Big Little Lies so compelling is that the truth behind closed doors is far darker. One character is the victim of domestic abuse. Another has to contend with the realisatio­n that her young son might be a bully. And the whole series kicks off with a murder at a school fundraiser.

When I lived in LA, there was a similar tension at play. No murders, thankfully, but I got to know a cadre of well-heeled, beautiful women who lived expensive lifestyles in the most exclusive areas. These women seemed to have it all. They ate vegan food, had domestic staff and sent their kids to progressiv­e schools. I would see them in spin classes in Larchmont Village or working out with celebrity trainer Tracey Anderson in Brentwood or sipping matcha lattes in West Hollywood, eyes shielded by oversized shades, mouths puffed up with lip-filler injections.

They were always smiling, displaying teeth of dazzling whiteness courtesy of repeated cosmetic dentistry appointmen­ts and, when I met them, they were unfailingl­y friendly. They would hear my accent and want to know where I was from, and eventually we would exchange numbers and there would be a flurry of promises to meet up that rarely came to fruition.

When they did follow through with an invitation, I was always struck by how imperfect their perfect lives were. I met one screenwrit­er who kept telling me how content she was with her lot and how she had truly “found herself ” through years of therapy and spiritual retreats to Big Sur.

When we ran into each other at a dinner party some weeks later, this same screenwrit­er got messily drunk and passed out on a beanbag in the corner of the host’s sitting room where she muttered darkly about the unhappy state of her marriage. Everyone else carried on, as if the most polite thing to do were simply to ignore her presence.

My British friends with kids would tell me similar stories of life behind the school gates: “The parents all pretend they want this hippy education with baby yoga lessons or whatever, but actually they’re massively competitiv­e and have tutors at home,” said one.

At a particular­ly fashionabl­e kindergart­en in East LA, misbehavin­g children who push each other in the sandpit are encouraged to apologise for violating “personal space” and failing to “respect each other’s bodies” but often, continued my friend, “the kids can be so badly behaved because they’re copying their parents’ behaviour. They’re repeating what they see at home.”

In California, there’s an expectatio­n of happiness because the sky is blue and it’s sunny 360 days of the year. Los Angeles, home to the movie industry, has long been founded on the notion that dreams can be fulfilled – that waiters can become film stars and Uber drivers can sell a multimilli­ondollar script that will change their lives. In a place where optimism is the prevailing currency, no one likes to admit to being unhappy, unless it’s to their therapist.

As a result, happiness is pursued with the obsessiven­ess of an addictive drug. And often with the aid of actual drugs. Anti-depressant­s are popped with unthinking frequency and medical marijuana is legal here. I spent one Thanksgivi­ng in a beautiful home in Laurel Canyon being told earnestly by the assembled LA profession­als that they’d vote for any president who legalised weed. Then everyone drank Martinis before driving home. (That’s another thing: drink driving happens all the time.)

“They’re all incredibly insecure,” says one friend who used to live in West Hollywood. “These women you see driving sleek black Range Rovers and living in their Pacific Palisades mansions? Well, the cars are rented and so are the houses. It’s all about appearance and the neuroses get passed on to their children.

“British girls will get together and bond over having a bad day, but if you ask a rich, LA housewife how her day’s been, she’ll always say it’s been great. I don’t think they’re as honest with each other as we Brits are, so it all gets bottled up.”

The feminist author Betty Friedan highlighte­d this issue back in 1963 with the publicatio­n of her influentia­l book The Feminine Mystique, in which she identified “the problem with no name” – an unspoken sense of yearning dissatisfa­ction experience­d by suburban American housewives who had all the material goods they desired, yet still felt there was something lacking.

Times have changed, but there’s still no such thing as a perfect life. As the characters in Big Little Lies show us, pretending to be happy never ends well. Big Little Lies is on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 9pm

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 ??  ?? Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoo­n and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies
Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoo­n and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies
 ??  ?? Smoothie operator: Elizabeth Day during her time in Los Angeles
Smoothie operator: Elizabeth Day during her time in Los Angeles

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