HBO’s Sharp Objects is a Mother of a Story!

Sharp Objects centers on newspaper reporter, Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), and the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri where a little girl’s been murdered and another is missing. Camille’s editor, Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval), thinks because she grew up in the town, her personal connection will add emotion to the story. “People give a shit when you give a shit,” he tells her. She’s had little contact with her family since leaving and tells him Wind Gap will not win her a Pulitzer. “You’re not winning a Pulitzer because you’re only half good at writing. This could change that,” he…

TV Review

Grade A+ - 98%

98%

Disturbing and addictive!

User Rating: 3.6 ( 2 votes)

Sharp Objects centers on newspaper reporter, Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), and the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri where a little girl’s been murdered and another is missing. Camille’s editor, Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval), thinks because she grew up in the town, her personal connection will add emotion to the story. “People give a shit when you give a shit,” he tells her. She’s had little contact with her family since leaving and tells him Wind Gap will not win her a Pulitzer.

“You’re not winning a Pulitzer because you’re only half good at writing. This could change that,” he replies. His insult mixed with hope doesn’t rally her. We shall soon see she’s been in the manipulation game her entire life. He pulls the “boss card” and orders her to go. Camille’s pained look can’t truly be understood until she arrives home.

Although Motel 6 would better fit her “trash from old money” persona and a purse full of travel-size liquor bottles, the thirty-something woman moves in with her estranged mother, a stepfather and teen half-sister. Being home brings memories of Miriam, a sister who died while they were children, and many other childhood wrongs.

Thus begins the director’s expert manipulation of time based on Camille’s perception. He marries varying lengths of flashbacks, ranging from a few seconds to minutes, and invites us to look inside her mind. The images, sometimes blurred and in slow motion, are objects, people and events that beg us to gain their confidence. As the story unfolds, the puzzles become recognizable pieces of her past which carry crippling emotion. The interspersing of Camille’s dead sister with her living one are the most poignant of her reminiscing.

The family resides in a seemingly perfect world where women have little more to do than drink lemonade on covered verandas. They live in an ancestral mansion with unused rooms. The staircase and upper landing demand the area of a local mall escalator. If you’re paying attention, you’ll know the spiked lemonade isn’t the first hard drink of the day. Or that the abundant space in their home suggests the vast disconnect between family members who exist within a much smaller, lonely place.

A picture of Adora and Alan from "Sharp Objects" sitting on their white veranda during summer, with red roses in the background.Camille’s step-father, Alan Crellin (Henry Czerny), an afterthought in a world dominated by his wife, spends most time in his study listening to melancholy albums from the 60s and 70s. The females walk the same narrow path to their assigned bedrooms, but sneak inside each other’s as if their belongings will reveal the person they know little about.  Strange, they simply don’t ask, “How’s it going?” except this is a world where their mother’s, Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson), insults and knife twisting criticism never stops. She gives love only when her wishes are granted, yet insists her children obey unconditionally—something Camille has never been able to do. Her mother often reminds her of what a disappointing child she was, and even now dismisses the reason Camille’s come to Wind Gap.

Instead of praising her daughter’s accomplishments and the fact she was sent to report on an important story, Adora tells her, “I’m happy you’re here, but please don’t embarrass me. When you’re here, you’re my daughter.” She wonders why a woman would want to report on such events. “I knew those children and am having a hard time dealing with it as you can imagine.” We quickly grasp, Adora thinks everything’s about Adora.

Constrained by her view of a woman’s role, she prefers to pretend her daughter’s on summer break. Camille can’t do her job and live in her mother’s imaginary world. She defies her wishes, seeking out a story and the truth, but Adora fights back. Her mother orders her to stop interviewing people and hides information about the murders from her while sharing it with the rest of the town. We get the idea Camille’s seen it all before as she pushes forward.   However, in one scene, Camille receives a long-awaited hug from her mother. Awkward as it is, we hope there is love in her heart for her daughter. It is a fleeting thought. While Camille is trapped in her embrace, Adora whispers, “I could never love you.” You can almost hear the psychiatrist say, “Tell me about your mother.”

 

 Amma Crellin (Eliza Scanlen), the half-sister born after Camille left home, is also a victim of her mother’s demands. However, while Camille stubbornly can only be who she is, Amma knows how to play her mother’s game. When the two sisters first meet downtown, neither one know who the other is. Amma is a foulmouthed teen, all attitude and insults. Not at all like the young lady dressed in proper clothes, ribbons and bows that Adora introduces to her later at home. “I’m incorrigible too,” Amma confides in Camille, “only she doesn’t know it.”  

Two things elevate Adora above everyone else. She employs most of the town at the family’s hog slaughterhouse business and she comes from old money. Status defines her. It guides what she wears, how she speaks, her good deeds and constraints on her daughters.

No episode explains Adora’s role as the family matriarch better than Closer. She welcomes the entire town into their gated estate to celebrate Calhoun Day. She  strolls through the crowd in a dress no one but the wealthy would be able to wear in a small country town without being labeled eccentric. Her pale skin shaded by a rose accented hat that might as well be a crown. She collects the many polite, “Thank you for having us to your home,” as if they feed her. It’s no coincidence the character’s name means “to worship.” 

Meanwhile, Camille’s on the phone with her editor, and tells him she can’t take anymore. He tells her, “I forget how sometimes parents aren’t always good for their kids.” After a few kind words from him, she resolves to stay. She joins the festivities in a tousled state, yet still outshines most mortals in a long gauze dress and wide-brimmed hat with a braid laid carelessly over one shoulder. But there’s nothing careless about it. The seemingly perfect guise of grace and beauty hides scars underneath its long sleeves. Scars she’s inflicted on herself in the form of words across her entire body. Words that define trauma she’s endured, and were shamefully revealed to her mother and sister while shopping for attire reflecting the family’s standing.  

Camille seeks out Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) from Kansas City, the only person not from Wind Gap at the gathering. The two have become friends while investigating the same crime. They played a game of tit for tat earlier, in which she took him to the important spots around town where bad things happened, and in return he answered questions about the case.   At this point, their sexual relationship has amounted to her taking his hand and placing it exactly where she wants in her unzipped pants while they remained fully dressed. He seems ready for more, but knows nothing of the scars hidden underneath. It’s a good guess she hasn’t been intimate often, and perhaps the detective has gotten as far as she’ll let him. Even so, Richard is protective when old acquaintances hit on her. He refers to their first date in an attempt to see where he stands. Camille is non-committal until she spots her mother across the lawn.

Forgetting Adora’s knack for turning all good things bad, she links arms with the detective. Perhaps to gain her mother’s approval or to prove she can be normal.  

Adora latches onto the detective as soon as he’s free. While giving him a tour of their home, they end up in her bedroom, a room where Camille’s never been allowed. She shows him the much worshiped floor which receives more loving care than anything else in the home. The ivory tiles, made from elephant tusk and installed by her great-great-grandfather, were meant to last forever.  Camille spots them in the upstairs window from below. Whatever she’s forgotten about her mother’s knack for sabotage comes back to her. You can almost see her heart race.  Adora tells him Camille’s in a delicate state and recently released from a care facility. If she took the man to bed, she wouldn’t have betrayed her daughter more.  Like Camille, we don’t know what other secrets her mother’s revealed, and she repeatedly asks him, but he changes the subject and makes her laugh. He’s not willing to pass along Adora’s back stabbing, and he seems good for her.  

 

  Oddly, the Calhoun Day celebration which reaffirms Adora’s family’s standing in the community glorifies a less than historic event. Her pregnant ancestor refused to reveal her Confederate husband’s hiding place to Union soldiers. In retaliation, the enemy soldiers rape her which results in the death of her unborn child. Much like Adora, she is worshiped for her hardship as well as her strengths. Yet Adora’s martyrdom is superficial. She feigns illness based on unlikely reasons such as Camille’s presence. She accidentally cuts herself on a hanger and tells her daughters, “You made me bleed, both of you.”        

Even stranger than the glorification of  rape, a reenactment is played on an open stage in front of a rapt audience. The heroin is tied to a tree, portrayed by Amma, and surrounded by actors dressed as Union soldiers. They thrust their hips at the teen, simulating the act as her mother proudly watches. 

When Camille asks a friend of her mother’s about the murdered girls, she remarks, “So much has gone wrong, I just can’t make sense of it.” The statement can easily be attached to Camille, but by this episode we can see what’s gone wrong. She’s endured one bad thing after another without much healing in between. Camille’s left Wind Gap, yet she hasn’t escaped her mother or the past.

 

Liz Yanders

Elizabeth Yanders has won awards for her short stories and poems, including an award from the Cesar Egido Serrano Foundation. She is currently writing a novel.

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