Sharp Objects review: Amy Adams stings in HBO’s addictive Big Little Lies follow-up
Cast - Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina
Rating - 3.5/5
After the release of Gone Girl - the film adaptation more than the book - author Gillian Flynn was criticised for being anti-feminist. Her protagonist (or antagonist, depending on how you choose to look at her) was a cruel psychopath, a one-woman-army out to teach a lesson to the Playboy-model-dating Ben Afflecks of the world.
For decades, we’d seen men of all shapes and sizes - masked avengers, deranged killers, maniacal tycoons - have somewhat of a monopoly on negative characters - perhaps because even in evil, they were empowered. And then along came Gillian Flynn, and she asked, “Why can’t women be bad, too?”
Watch the Sharp Objects trailer here
It was a brilliant subversion of tropes, and no wonder it left most people confused - but the logic is sound. If true feminism means equality, then this equality must extend to all facets of human behaviour - and especially a zone - being evil on films, TV - that women had thus far not been particularly welcome in, as if it were some sort of hallowed religious ground, accessible only to men.
For too long, women - even when they were portrayed as unsympathetic characters - have been reactionary - to the commands, whims and moods of their male counterparts. Flynn and her stories are out to break those rules.
On several occasions in Sharp Objects, the new HBO miniseries, based on Flynn’s debut novel, when the grizzled old policeman refers to murderers and miscreants with a male pronoun, a girl pops up to remind him that ‘women can kill, too.’ Perhaps their limited imagination is limiting their investigation?
This is just the sort of provocative stuff you’d expect from Flynn’s work. While most of us are satisfied with inserting corrections every time someone says the word ‘mankind’, here’s Gillian Flynn, two steps ahead.
Her protagonist in Sharp Objects is Camille Preaker, an alcoholic, self-harming train wreck played by Amy Adams. She’s a reporter, sent back to her home town to cover the murders of two young girls. Perhaps her connection to the Wind Gap, Missouri, would make for a more personal story, her editor speculates, before sending her off with a warning: “Don’t try to solve this mystery.”
But what he doesn’t know is that Camille ran away from Wind Gap the first chance she got - away from her domineering mother, the suffocatingly insular community, and the profound tragedy that defined her youth. She wears long sleeves and a snarky attitude, both to hide the literal and emotional scars of her past - armour against her memories. She listens to a classy collection of old blues and soul, which, like the alcohol she consumes at every hour of the day, acts as a sedative.
The ridiculously luscious soundtrack to Sharp Objects - like the perfect music of its spiritual predecessor, Big Little Lies - is disarmingly beautiful. And never is this dichotomy - this superficial distraction from the underlying darkness - more obvious than in the depiction of Alan, the husband of Camille’s mother, Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson).
Alan is the sort of moneyed old southerner that you see in SNL parodies. He wears his sweater tied in a knot over his shoulders, on sweaty evenings he sips iced tea on his porch, and he speaks with a politeness that gave Stephen King the ‘heebie-jeebies’. But at night, lonely because his wife refuses to touch him, he distracts himself with wonderful old music on his stereo.
And distraction is a key element in Sharp Objects - the residents of Wind Gap are constantly trying to forget their grim history, while our attention is diverted from the darkness by director Jean-Marc Vallée’s delightful visuals and dreamlike tone. By most accounts, there was disharmony on set because of his disregard for the written scripts, but as fans of his Big Little Lies would know, he excels at telling stories through images. He values mood and tone over pages of dialogue - and more often than not, he succeeds.
Sharp Objects wouldn’t be what it is without Jean-Marc Vallée’s fluid direction, and his precise editing, which jabs the viewer with blasts from the past like a knife to the abdomen. Camille is reminded of her traumatic childhood through touch, through smell, and through sounds - and we’re reminded along with her, through lightning-quick flashes of a younger Camille (played by It’s Sophia Lillis).
However, the comparisons must end here. Sharp Objects, unlike the deliriously entertaining Big Little Lies, is paced as sleepily as the town it is set in, and told in the tradition of fine Southern Gothic mysteries. Many minutes are devoted entirely to Camille driving from one dump to another, listening to her music, life overtaking her as it always has. Often, the central mystery is sidelined in favour of small, character moments.
And in these moments, no one is short-changed. Not even Alan. The scenes set in his and Adora’s home have an almost horror movie quality to them - as if they’re the survivors of a brutal home invasion, living in a haunted house, where traumatic memories lurk behind every corner. Patricia Clarkson is certainly in on it.
But it is practically impossible to take your eyes off Amy Adams, who plays the perfect Flynn heroine. Camille could easily have been a detestable person - her arc is riddled with bad decisions - but Adams’ performance finds the vulnerability that is so essential to self-destructive characters such as her. Sure, bad things have happened to Camille, but is that justification enough for her venomous actions?
There is a cyclical nature to abuse, Sharp Objects says - it is handed down from parents to children like an ugly and unwanted heirloom. There is no escaping it, no matter how long you keep it hidden in an attic.
Sharp Objects premieres on the 15th of September on Star World Premiere HD at 11 PM. The show will continue to air every Saturday at 11 PM. Or you can just binge it on Hotstar.
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