Review: Stephen King adaptation 'Lisey's Story' comes up short

All-star cast, award-winning director can't save Apple TV+ series from becoming silly.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News
View Comments

How can a show featuring three Oscar nominees and one Oscar winner, directed by an award-winning international talent and written by arguably the most popular author of the past 50 years be such a dud?

That’s the question with “Lisey’s Story,” the eight-part adaptation of Stephen King’s 2006 novel. Despite all the talent, this relentlessly serious endeavor toggles between being dramatically inert and outright silly.

Julianne Moore in "Lisey's Story."

This has always been a problem with King novels — what works beautifully on the page is hard to translate to the screen. When a King adaptation works (“Carrie,” “Misery,” “The Shining”), it’s magical. When a King adaptation doesn’t work, you get “Lisey’s Story.”

Directed by Chilean auteur Pablo Larrain (2016's "Jackie"), working with a teleplay by King, “Lisey’s Story” stars Julianne Moore as the title character, the widow of a very Stephen King-like novelist (Clive Owen). A deranged super-fan (Dane DeHaan) is stalking her, demanding access to all the writings the novelist left behind.

That’s the basic story, but most of the time is spent looking back on Lisey’s marriage and her husband’s horribly abusive childhood. Lisey also has to contend with an older sister (Joan Allen) who’s in a catatonic state as well as a resentful younger sister (Jennifer Jason-Leigh, given far too little to do).

All of which is fine. But this is Stephen King, so of course there’s an underlying supernatural bugaboo. In this case it’s a magical/haunting land where there’s a giant monster made up of writhing humans. Understandably one can lose their mind there, but it’s also a place of healing.

Wait, what?

Yeah, there’s a lot of wait-whatting involved here.

A good deal of the time Lisey is either in this strange place or she’s sitting around sadly remembering the past, neither of which is terribly interesting. There are occasional bursts of violence and a lot of closeups of Allen and DeHaan looking bonkers. 

The child abuse story on its own might be strong; same with the stalker story. But it’s all buried beneath the supernatural stuff. “Lisey’s Story” simply has too much wait-whatting.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'Lisey’s Story'

GRADE: C-

Apple TV+

View Comments