Fantasy and reality in the #MeToo age

Kathryn Hahn (above) stars as Eve Fletcher, while Jackson White plays her college-going son, Brendan.
Kathryn Hahn (above) stars as Eve Fletcher, while Jackson White plays her college-going son, Brendan. PHOTO: HBO ASIA
Kathryn Hahn stars as Eve Fletcher, while Jackson White (above) plays her college-going son, Brendan.
Kathryn Hahn stars as Eve Fletcher, while Jackson White (above) plays her college-going son, Brendan.PHOTO: HBO ASIA

Drama-comedy Mrs Fletcher depicts the contrasting journeys of a mother and son grappling with a changing sexual culture

When sexual fantasies collide with reality in one leafy American suburb, the result is the drama-comedy Mrs Fletcher, now on HBO.

With her son in college, single mother Eve Fletcher (played by Kathryn Hahn) is an empty-nester free to explore her long-ignored sexual needs.

Her teenage son Brendan (Jackson White) is sexually active, but most of what he knows has been picked up from Internet pornography.

Both are unprepared for the America of 2019.

In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, novelist Tom Perrotta, who produced the show and wrote one of its seven episodes, says that they have entered a world in a state of flux.

"We are living in a moment when traditional gender hierarchies are being challenged and upended... They are navigating a sexual culture transformed by porn, social media, feminism and the #MeToo movement," he says.

Perrotta, 58, who wrote the 2017 novel of the same name on which the show is based, says both mother and son are also trying to deal with new forms of sexual consent.

Brendan is an attractive and popular young man who enters university expecting that women there will be as yielding and as uncomplaining as they had been in high school.

When he attends a compulsory class on consent, he is shocked to find that the definition of rape is now so broad as to encompass his past behaviour.

Brendan is angry at being made to feel like a criminal for being, as he and his buddies might put it, a "normal healthy male".

Meanwhile, his mother's journey is more joyful. Eve enjoys new freedoms with none of the shame and guilt her son is made to feel about his own impulses.

Perrotta explains that their journeys offer contrasting examples of what happened after feminism took on the sexual revolution.

"Feminism hopes to increase sexual possibilities for women - in this sense, it is pro-sex and sometimes pro-porn," he says.

But the same women's movement also sought to curb toxic male behaviour, especially in the degrading forms of porn and the harm it does to younger men, he adds.

Perrotta has turned his books into films and television projects before, getting involved not only as a screenwriter, but also creator and producer.

His 2011 novel The Leftovers was turned into an HBO series in 2014. The critically acclaimed show ran for three seasons.

Turning Mrs Fletcher into a show was a "fascinating challenge".

"It's a very interior book. It's about Eve's inner transformation, and it was a fascinating challenge to make that process visible on the screen," he says.

Working in a visual medium has paradoxically turned him into a more "literary" writer, he thinks.

Compared with television, writing achieves so much with so little, he says.

"I'm more fully aware of the things a prose writer can do that are difficult to do on the screen - describe the inner lives of characters and move freely in time. When I'm writing my books, I try to take advantage of these writerly freedoms as much as possible."

• Mrs Fletcher airs at 11.30am and 11.30pm on Mondays on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601 and Singtel TV Channel 420) and streams on HBO Go.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2019, with the headline 'Fantasy and reality in the #MeToo age'. Print Edition | Subscribe