Sharp Objects Review: A Gripping Character Study on Forgiving the Past

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn is the latest novel getting the limited series treatment on HBO.

Flynn is best known for her book and the successful movie adaptation, Gone Girl, which starred Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and was directed by David Fincher.

Like Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, Flynn's first novel, is a character study wrapped inside of a character study, and it's the characters that bring make the story worth watching on the HBO adaptation.

Amy Adams in Sharp Objects

Amy Adams stars as Camille Preaker, a reporter for the St. Louis Chronicle, learns from her editor, Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval), that little girls are going missing in her hometown of Wind Gap. People who cover murders in their hometown can make something of them because of the personal nature of the stories.

When Camille protests that it's not going to win her a Pulitzer, Curry says, "You're not winning a Pulitzer because you're only half good at writing, and this could change that."

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There's more to their relationship, and his hope that going "home" could help Camille flush some things out and get back on her feet is the first clue there's a lot more going on with her than meets the eye.

Led Zepplin playing on a cracked cell phone, tiny liquor bottles she hoards in paper bags and frequent flashbacks offer other clues, sometimes subtle, sometimes not.

The Women of Sharp Objects

As Camille claws through her life in flashbacks, it's obvious the casting department was working overtime to find not only children talented enough to act the young Camille but to mirror a young Adams. Sophia Lillis was in 2017's IT, and if her similarity to Adams wasn't evident when they didn't share the screen, it will be now.

Going home to Wind Gap reveals that while Camille might not be the best writer, she's a darn good investigator. She spends most of her time trying to uncover whatever she can about the missing girls in an attempt to stay as far away from her childhood home as she can.

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The many clues that are first shown all somehow tie back to her life in Wind Gap and suffering, as kids do, at the hands of her family. Camille's overbearing southern belle mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), makes her feel as welcome as a wet blanket on a crisp autumn day.

The house has more rules than Litchfield Prison, and the only reason I can think of she doesn't leave to stay at a local motel is merely to propel the story. The woman is that uncomfortable even from a viewer's perspective.

The Family - Sharp Objects

Other residents include Camille's stoic and henpecked stepfather, Alan (Henry Czerny), her wild and mild half-sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen), and the memories of a sister, Marian, dead since childhood.

Once the principle story is established and Camille is back on home turf, a place to which she might never have returned if not required, it becomes a bit of a walkabout as all of Camille's most tortured memories are put to the test.

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The case, the article she's writing, and her past merge and then diverge as she unwittingly becomes an emotionally well woman for the first time in her life.

The journey we're taken on with Camille is dark and disturbing, and one that might not be too far off from that many girls experience as they grow into adulthood.

Not only can parents be overbearing and seem to be at fault for many of our most traumatic recollections, but the rites of passage girls suffer as a result of their burgeoning sexuality and less-than-stellar decisions can stay with them forever.

Camille and Richard - Sharp Objects

Reunited with her family, Camille sees for the first time the family dynamic with another teen in what used to be her place, watching her mother fawn over Amma, alternately treating her like a child and allowing her to get away with behavior Camille would have never been able to survive under the same parentage.

It's a story of depression, expression, angst, anger, discovery, and recovery. As hard as Camille tries to suppress what she feels at the return to Wind Gap, the return also demands an awakening of old feelings and a release of long-repressed emotions she can't hold back forever.

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Chris Messina is wonderful as visiting detective Richard Willis, who is often at loggerheads with Chief of Police Vickery (Matt Craven), a man who seems to be a little too close to Adora, perhaps adoring her and her family's influence in town too much for the good of the case or Camille's story.

Clarkson performs as only she can, bordering on villainous in the way she treats one individual over another and how she can say something so unforgiving while running the back of her hand lovingly over the cheek of Camille's face. It's a glorious, ugly performance.

Camille and Adora - Sharp Objects

There is a guest-starring role by Sydney Sweeney that takes my breath away.

She's one that when you see her, you know it will be good. From Everything Sucks! to The Handmaid's Tale to Sharp Objects, Sweeney morphs herself into characters so that she's virtually unrecognizable but always a standout no matter how long she's on screen.

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As Alice, she's pivotal to shaping Camille at a time when Camille was estranged from her family, but they were never far from her heart.

Scanlen makes the most of her role as Amma, as well, perfectly portraying a girl who wants to be a woman without letting go of the little girl inside of her quite yet.

From moment to moment, there is fear she will be the next missing girl to wanting Camille to slap that smart comments right out of her mouth. She's the quintessential teenage handful who can be more trouble than she needs or wants without knowing why.

Sharp Pin - Sharp Objects

Adams leads them all with her portrayal of a troubled, hardened woman trying to keep herself as tough as nails with the help of a constant flow of alcohol and the precious sharp objects she needs to mask the inner turmoil with physical pain.

Adams is best when Camille almost lets her visage slip but catches it before she reveals her secrets and when she's alone in a room, and only the viewers are watching. She doesn't need to speak to say everything as she emerges from her past and learns to forgive herself for things over which she had little control.

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There are different writers for each episode, some women (including Flynn and Marti Noxon) and all are directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who wowed with his direction for Big Little Lies.

With its eerie southern gothic vibe that never subsides, Sharp Objects stands out more as a character drama and in its direction than it does a mystery. It's not difficult to solve overall, but the nuances of what makes a person like Camille Preaker tick are especially captivating.

From the writing to the stellar performances to the direction, it's eight weeks you don't want to miss.

Sharp Objects begins airing on HBO Sunday, July 8 at 9/8c. 

Review

Editor Rating: 4.25 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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Sharp Objects Quotes

Wind Gap. There was a murder there. Another one's missing. Get me a story.

Curry

What if, after you die, part of you goes to heaven, part of you stays here, just to see how things turn out?

Girl