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Arts & Life

Review: HBO's 'Sharp Objects'


A new limited series starts Sunday on HBO. "Sharp Objects" stars Amy Adams. She plays a troubled reporter investigating crimes that have upended her small Missouri hometown. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's less a whodunit than an immersive exploration of female pain.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Sharp Objects" starts simply enough when a crusty editor in St. Louis, played by Miguel Sandoval, asks his cynical reporter, played by Amy Adams, about her small Missouri hometown called Wind Gap.


MIGUEL SANDOVAL: (As Frank Curry) Wind Gap. What's it like?

AMY ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) It's at the bottom of Missouri - Bootheel, spitting distance from Tennessee.

SANDOVAL: (As Frank Curry) I know where it is. I asked what it's like.

ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) Small - population's held at 2,000 for years. Only real industry is hog butchering, so you got your old money and your trash.

SANDOVAL: (As Frank Curry) Which one are you?

ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) Trash from old money.

DEGGANS: Turns out one young girl has been killed and another is missing in Wind Gap. And the editor wants Adams' character, Camille Preaker, to cover it. But Camille's overbearing mother, the high-society matriarch of Wind Gap, doesn't approve.


PATRICIA CLARKSON: (As Adora Crellin) When you're here, everything you do comes back on me.

ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) That might have been true when I was a kid, but I'm an adult now.

CLARKSON: (As Adora Crellin) Darling, when you're here, you're my daughter. You can move away and forget, but I can't. You don't know the people here anymore.

ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) Yeah, believe me; I do.

DEGGANS: But we don't, so "Sharp Objects" introduces us to characters we've kind of seen in other Southern-set dramas - the boozy, truth-telling local gossip, the beleaguered sheriff, the knuckleheaded former high school pals who now have grown-up secrets of their own. But what works here is the way Jean-Marc Vallee's direction brings you into Camille's world. She's damaged and self-destructive, revealed by a body she takes great pains to hide under long sleeves and dark jeans. Vallee, who also directed HBO's hit "Big Little Lies," provides visceral images of how Camille's past haunts her now. That includes a scene in which Camille brings a detective from out of town to a spot where the football team used to take advantage of cheerleaders.


CHRIS MESSINA: (As Detective Richard Willis) Some people would call that rape, you know?

ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) And some people would call that consensual, you know?

MESSINA: (As Detective Richard Willis) Who are you talking about? Were you one of the girls?

ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) If I say yes, you'll think less of me or you'll feel sorry for me.

MESSINA: (As Detective Richard Willis) What?

ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) Well, a boy had sex with five girls, and they put up a statue in his honor.

MESSINA: (As Detective Richard Willis) Yeah, double standards exist. But having your way with somebody, that sounds criminal - literally, even on game night.

DEGGANS: Based on "Gone Girl" author Gillian Flynn's first book, this mini-series shows the dark consequences of female rage across three generations, which may not help Flynn's reputation as an author focused on unsympathetic female characters. There's some things I don't like here - the Southern accents by Adams and some of her co-stars seem to come and go like the wind. The Kansas City detective played by Chris Messina looks more like he was imported from a "Law & Order" episode in Manhattan. And too many characters feel too close to insulting Southern stereotypes, like this mom Camille meets when she tries to interview a kid who may have seen the killer.


ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) Sorry to bother you. Your son was just in the window when I came by. He's playing with a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Why do you care?

ADAMS: (As Camille Preaker) Just seems a little young to have a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Breaking some law or something? Screw off.

DEGGANS: Later we learn the mother was a meth addict and dying of cancer. When "Sharp Objects" goes wrong, it's often in that kind of excess - piling up trauma in a way that can feel unreal. Vallee's artful direction often hides that excess while helping camouflage plot points you would otherwise see coming a mile away. But Flynn is right. We don't see female anti-heroes like Camille on TV very often, a woman whose trauma and bad choices are written on her body in ways you will remember long after the show's final credits have rolled. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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