“It’s Gone Girl meets True Detective with a side order of Big Little Lies.”
This Sunday, Sharp Objects premiered on HBO, making it the network’s latest limited series inspired by a bestselling novel. Based on Gillian Flynn’s book of the same name, it centres around reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) who returns to her hometown in Missouri to cover the murder of two preteen girls. Co-starring Patricia Clarkson as Preaker’s estranged mother, Chris Messina as detective Richard Willis, and Eliza Scanlen as Camille’s preteen half-sister, it’s Gone Girl meets True Detective with a side order of Big Little Lies.
But there’s more to it than that. Which is why I’ve prepared this handy and necessary primer for you.
I honestly don’t understand why you think we need this. Ultimately, it’s based on a Gillian Flynn novel, right? And like Big Little Lies it’s a murder-mystery? Boring.
How wrong you are and how dare you. I mean yes, like Flynn’s previous work, Sharp Objects is also a murder-mystery. But that said, the story puts as much weight on Camille Preaker’s demons as it does on the whodunit: she’s an alcoholic, she has her own secret, she’s estranged from her family for a reason, and the more she learns about the victims’ stories, the more she begins to identify with them.
Okay, so how does Big Little Lies factor in? Is it the HBO connection?
Well, obviously. Big Little Lies aired on HBO, so we can assume the network would like Sharp Objects to earn similar accolades. (Why wouldn’t they? It’d be weird if HBO didn’t want their own series to succeed.) But there’s a good chance it will: director Jean-Marc Vallee was the mastermind behind Big Little Lies and is helming Sharp Objects, too. Which you can tell almost immediately thanks to the opening credits and their haunting music. You almost expect to catch a glimpse of an all-knowing Reese Witherspoon or shot of the ocean, the latter being a #blessed image, truly.
So that’s it? His directing style is “opening credits”?
I don’t love your attitude. But that’s a fair question. If you’ve seen Big Little Lies or Wild, you’ll know that Vallee excels in a lingering shot. He focuses on objects and faces and holds onto a character’s expression or reaction, forcing you to sit with it. And while we know we should be rooting for Pleaker, Vallee’s style draws us into her orbit and then forces us to sit with her baggage and dark side, too. He’s terrific at creating a sense of intimacy, and that’s not always comfortable. But it’s crucial for a story like Sharp Objects.
Well, the best murder-mysteries are rarely just about the crime at hand. And to understand this story’s specific killer, we need to understand where Camille grew up, why she’s drawn to investigate the murders, the family dynamics that she believed to be normal, and the climate that perpetuates certain cycles. Camille is carrying a lot, and as a result, she’s not as forthcoming as a character who’s flown through life easily. But this makes for a compelling broadcast, especially since the first season of True Detective set the bar for TV-bred crime stories tethered to good people who don’t act that way.
So how is this like Gone Girl?
Like Gone Girl, Sharp Objects lives under the same umbrella as True Detective: the character we use to delve into a story isn’t necessarily a safe bet. In True Detective, we had Rusty, whose memory is compromised due to his drinking and the mental and emotional effects of his work. And in Gone Girl, we had Amy and Nick: both biased, both manipulative (and one sociopath). Camille Preaker, thanks to her own history, is compromised too. But she’s our only way into the story, so buckle up and hold on tight.
Yes, like Gone Girl, Sharp Objects is set in Missouri. Gillian Flynn was raised in Missouri. And here we are today.
What are the themes of this story? Murder and mayhem?
Ugh, I hope not. It sounds like you’re pitching a Saw film. So where Sharp Objects begins by focusing on the deaths of two girls, it also explores issues that are difficult in their own right. It brings up issues of self-harm, of addiction, of PTSD. It’s a story about trauma. And at times, centering on the murder is almost easier since, as people with brains and hearts, we know that trauma manifests in many ways and can feel impossible to escape from.
This sounds bleak.
Oh, don’t get me wrong: it absolutely is. But I think we can trust the way it’s being handled. To start, it’s executive produced by Amy Adams and Gillian Flynn, and Jean-Marc Vallee has a decent track record for helping to tell stories that are difficult and triggering. (That said, make sure to trust yourself if you’re unsure about the subject matter. Some of it might be a little much, so respect your boundaries.) But True Detective and The Wire ushered in the era of difficult men who meant well, and we’re still lacking female-led series that boast the same. I think Sharp Objects is a perfect vehicle for that, especially after the success of Big Little Lies which beautifully painted its five women as complicated, flawed, messy, strong, and brilliant. Why shouldn’t Camille Preaker join their ranks?
I didn’t say she couldn’t.
Well you’ve been combative this whole time.
You’re standing in front of my TV and I’m trying to watch Sharp Objects.
Well, now you know that you’re making the right choice. Please proceed.