August 27, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Sharp Objects”


The HBO miniseries version of Gillian Flynn’s novel SHARP OBJECTS proved to be a fascinating exercise in adaptation.  Although the TV credits reported the show to be “created by” showrunner Marti Noxon, it was clearly the result of a close collaboration between Noxon, Flynn (not just a producer on the project but one of the screenwriters), and director Jean-Marc Vallee, who was behind the camera on all of the episodes.

Strictly speaking, the TV translation of Sharp Objects was extremely faithful to the novel.  The major plot points lined up, as did most of the characters, and even chunks of dialogue were reproduced from the book.  Yet the feel of watching the series was quite different from reading Flynn’s original.  Both stories concerned the disastrously damaged Preaker family, particularly daughter Camille (played by Amy Adams), a reporter who came back to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to follow the investigation into the murders of two teen girls, a case that came to embroil Camille’s mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and younger sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen).  Camille, whose other sister died when she was young, was revealed to be a recently institutionalized cutter and functioning alcoholic, all with a fair amount of justification as her family history began to unfold.

The novel, told in Camille’s first-person narration, is a gothic horror story that plays out within the form of a hardboiled whodunit.  The series chose to accentuate both the family saga and the alienating setting of Wind Gap, with the mystery often placed in the background.  Given that Sharp Objects is fundamentally about women mistreating women, this approach played up the psychological and sociological context of the melodrama.  The moodiness was further underlined by Vallee’s direction, which was familiar to viewers of his film Wild and miniseries Big Little Lies in its use of stream of consciousness editing and music as a bridge between memory and the present tense.  The air of near-surrealism was compounded by fragmentary glimpses of the words carved into Camille’s body appearing on signs and elsewhere in her subjective point of view shots.

This assortment of aesthetic choices kept Sharp Objects from being conventionally satisfying as an entertainment, although it was a compellingly eerie and disturbing study of the interaction between emotional and physical damage.  Adams gave a brave performance in the opposite of the way acting is usually described as “brave”:  rather than reach for bravura effects, she was intensely quiet, her emotions cushioned by cynicism and drunkenness, and often seemingly passive.  Scanlen was a fascinating mix of belle and creepiness.  Clarkson could only do so much with a character who was exactly as disturbing as she seemed to be, but she certainly got under one’s skin.  (On the male side, Chris Messina had a barely written role as a big-city cop brought in for the murder investigation, and the role of Adora’s second husband, played by Henry Czerny, was as much a cipher on screen as he was on the page.)

Tonight’s finale, co-written by Noxon and Flynn, finally amped up the reveals after episodes that were just this side of languorous, although even here the mood was unhurried, as Camille allowed herself to be gradually poisoned by Adora to prove her mother was the killer.  As in the novel, there was the double-twist that while Adora had killed Camille’s sister via Munchausen By Proxy, the teens were murdered by Amma, confirmed by a quick frenzy of mid-credits footage.  Because the series wasn’t content to be a mere mystery-solving device, the ending found itself not quite a successful potboiler a la Big Little Lies, but also not the revelatory treatise on femalehood it seemed to be reaching to be.

Even if Sharp Objects didn’t pack the wallop it might have, it was a distinctive, ambitious piece of work, and while not the hit that Big Little Lies became, one could imagine HBO wanting it back in some capacity.  (However, Adams apparently is in no hurry to occupy Camille’s head-space again.)  Following Succession, and sharing the night with Insecure, it’s a reminder that while other programming services provide giant slabs of content, HBO’s reliable curatorial skill can still set it apart from its competition.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."