Nicole Kidman executive produces a star-studded adaptation of Cecelia Ahern’s short story collection that rarely misses
Things aren’t looking good for us right now, am I right, ladies? States are passing a historic number of anti-abortion laws, and the needle has barely moved in reaching income equality with men, particularly for Black and Latinx women. The time may not be right for a whimsical take on what it’s like to be a woman in the 21st century, but Apple TV+’s anthology Roar has enough of an edge on it to make it entertaining without being condescending or out of touch. Though it suffers from the typical unevenness of an anthology series, even its weaker entries are still solid, and their blessedly short half-hour runtime makes it all go down smooth.
Executive produced by Nicole Kidman, and based on Irish author Cecelia Ahern’s short story collection, Roar features a star-studded cast in a series of tightly paced tales of women struggling with aging parents, genteel racism, guilt as working mothers, bad boyfriends and failing marriages, all presented through a magical realism lens. Some are weirder than others, but all maintain the same thread of a woman who finds herself existing in a world that looks familiar to her, but is just a little askew.
A standout of the series is “The Woman Who Ate Photographs,” featuring Kidman (getting to speak with her native Australian accent for once) as Robin, a middle-aged woman burdened with a surly teenage son who can’t wait to get away from her, and a mother (a fantastic Judy Davis) losing a battle with dementia. On a road trip to bring her mother home to live with her (an arrangement absolutely no one wants), Robin soothes herself by eating old family photographs so she can briefly relive the moments captured in them. It’s never explained how Robin has this strange ability, but it makes for a poignant story about loss, both what’s already gone, and what’s fading away. It never tips over into being maudlin, however, and that’s due both to its gently hopeful ending, and Davis’s peppery, no bullshit performance. Her character’s mind might be going, but her eyes still flash with intelligence, humor, and anger at the way things turned out for her.
Another highlight of Roar is also its oddest episode, “The Woman Who Was Fed by a Duck,” directed by Liz Flahive. The always excellent Merritt Wever is Alisa, a lonely medical student who falls in love with a self-proclaimed feminist named Larry (Justin Kirk) after they meet in a park. That Larry is a duck is of little consequence to Alisa, and their relationship seems to be everything she’s ever wanted, until he starts revealing his manipulative, temperamental side, expressing his displeasure by doing such things as defecating all over Alisa’s apartment. If you can handle the idea of a duck giving a person an orgasm, you’ll appreciate this episode’s perfect balance of humor and weirdness, which takes a dark turn when Larry’s behavior devolves from unsettling to abusive. Wever, who brings an unflappable calmness to every role, is absolutely convincing when she plays against a duck speaking with a human man’s voice, and her heartbreak when Larry proves himself to be just another asshole who tells her what she wants to hear, waterfowl or not, is palpable.
On a more lighthearted note, there’s the delightful “The Woman Who Returned Her Husband,” starring Meera Syal as Anu, hitting 60 and tired of life with her stodgy, boring husband Vikram (Bernard White). Rather than divorce him, she simply returns him to a big box store with a conveniently located husband department. Due to some small print claus in Vikram’s “Husband Warranty,” Anu is forced to take a series of equally unsuitable husbands in exchange, including a younger man who remarks that she reminds of his mother (“not in a creepy way”), and a fitness buff who picks on her weight. She tries to learn to live alone, only to discover that her smug neighbor has picked up Vikram at a bargain price, turning him into a brand new man Anu barely recognizes. It’s a funny and warmhearted look at how we forget that marriage is a compromise, and all we can do to keep it alive is to agree to meet in the middle.
Other episodes include “The Woman Who Disappeared,” starring Issa Rae as a writer who learns that her memoir has been optioned as a virtual reality experiment to teach white people empathy, Betty Gilpin as a model turned literal trophy wife in “The Woman Who Was Kept on the Shelf,” Allison Brie as the titular “Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder,” and Fivel Stewart as a teenager seeking Old West revenge in “The Girl Who Loved Horses.” The darkest episode, combining psychological horror with body horror, is “The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin,” starring Cynthia Erivo as an overtaxed working mother whose guilt over spending time away from her family (and enjoying it) exhibits itself in a series of gruesome bites blossoming on her skin. It asks the timeless question “Can women have it all?” and offers a bleak answer: yes, but they’ll suffer in some way for it.
Nevertheless, even that episode ends on a hopeful, encouraging note, which feels abrupt, and, in this case, a little pat and overly simplified. But that’s an admittedly weak complaint in an otherwise solid run of mostly relatable stories, even if some lean into the weirdness more than others. A more legitimate issue is that in an eight episode series, it’s both disappointing and curious that not a single one could be devoted to an LGBTQ protagonist. Ahern’s collection consists of 30 stories, so it’s possible we might see three more seasons of Roar, and more opportunities to correct such a glaring omission. It seems to go against the insightful and empathetic tone of the show to leave a considerable population of its audience out of the conversation.
Roar is now available on Apple TV+.