Review: SHARP OBJECTS Begins Its Incision

columnist, critic; USA (@suddenlyquiet)
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Review: SHARP OBJECTS Begins Its Incision

With a series that practically bills itself as being chock full of surprises, probably the least surprising thing one can say is that Amy Adams, who is pretty much great in everything, is also great in Sharp Objects.

In fact, there are times in the first couple of episodes where her performance is nearly the only draw, the thing that keeps you engaged even when everything surrounding it seems a little questionable. And even when the dialogue that she’s been given makes you feel bad for her as an actor.

But don’t worry, there’s some other good news besides Adams’s work, and this good news grows in proportion over time. After all, with every new TV drama there’s the calculus of “How soon until it kicks in?” that’s part of deciding whether to commit, and here the wait time is relatively brief: by Episode 3 of this 7-episode limited series.

That’s not to say there aren’t some clichés throughout, just that the first couple of episodes seem top-heavy in this respect. Playing a reporter investigating child murders in the small Missouri town where she grew up, Adams’ character Camille Parker is warned early on about “stirring up” trouble. On another occasion she is chastised for “riling” people up.

So at this point I’m just wondering if there will be a scene in which she eventually confronts the serial killer only to be told that everything would have worked out fine if only she hadn’t “meddled.” And the clichéd dialogue and interactions are in addition to all the familiar “types” we encounter: the wild yet bored teens, the handsome big city detective, the surly and/or morose mourners, the catty townsfolk, and so on. Adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, Sharp Objects features a script that often undercuts itself, providing generic situations and conflicts just when deeper, more personal emotions surface in response to the mystery at hand.

So it’s not that with E3 everything becomes dazzlingly innovative and distinctive and starts playing like a new season of Twin Peaks. Rather, with the initial setup out of the way, a small weight feels like it’s been lifted and the artists can be, well, artistic. We’ve been with Adams as she discovers bodies, crosses swords with her gentile yet domineering mother, flirted with the aforementioned handsome detective, and, most unoriginally, goes through all the mini-bottle-soaked days of being a high-functioning alcoholic. All of that stuff now out of the way, director Jean-Marc Vallée both bears down and drills down.

Amplifying the impressionistic approach to flashbacks he used effectively in Big Little Lies, Vallée employs mindscreen to create montages of past tragedy mixed with present dread. These sequences are heavy with portent but filmed dreamily, and it is this combination of weightiness and lightness that is so hypnotic. Arguably this style is better suited to this material than Big Little Lies because here a central theme concerns how Camille cannot escape the past in ways that are almost literal.

By E3 and E4 we can appreciate the play of memories and the connections between them and current events in ways that are far less clunky than I'm describing them—it’s impressionism with added expressionism, and it comes to extend to other characters’ POVs as well. We get the feeling that the entire community of Wind Gap, MO, shares one darkly pulsing mind that is capable of any passion, any crime.

And that, I suppose, is fully in keeping with the HBO brand and what its audience expects; in the end it’s all about the pleasure of watching formidable actors playing strong-willed volatile people… and then continuing to watch to see how these volatile people will react when, inevitably, the blade of truth cuts too deep.

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(photo credit: Anne Marie Fox/HBO)

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Amy AdamsJean-Marc ValléeSharp Objects

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