Camille Preaker is a troubled woman. The vodka-stained journalist clearly struggles with her work and her new assignment: to cover the disappearance and murder of two girls in her old hometown of Wind Gap, Mo. For the lead character of “Sharp Objects,” flashbacks of the past haunt her just as much as the problems of the present. Camille reluctantly takes the assignment, but it’s obvious that her home brings her no comfort.
The adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s thriller novel by the same name mirrors some aspects of her breakout hit, “Gone Girl.” At the core of both, there’s a polished looking family that obsesses over appearances and reputations. The effort to look like a happy family leads to many unintended consequences. For Camille, her mother’s lack of love toward her is one of the reasons she resorts to self-mutilation and self-medicates with liquor.
Amy Adams gives Camille a world weary edge with a profound sensitivity to other’s pain. She’s seen and felt too much, and no one around her seems to really understand why. Later, we learn her secrets – of the loss of her sister, sexual assault by classmates and her mother’s neglect. Her teary-eyed stare and constant drink become less of a character trait than symptoms of trauma.
When the audience finally meets her mother, Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson), she’s cold and unwelcoming to her daughter. She looks down on everyone who isn’t her and obsesses over what other people think or say about her and her family.
Adora never uses her power in town to protect her daughters. Instead, she uses the town gossip as a punishment against them. The toxic relationship between Adora and Camille reveals itself mostly in dialogue at first, and later in Camille’s memories when she thinks back on the times her mother disowned her or turned her away.
Adora has cutting words for Camille about her appearance when she arrives. In a fit on uneasy panic, Camille leaves home to drink at a bar and ends up falling asleep in her car. When she returns home the next morning, her mom is more worried that someone would have seen her daughter sleeping in a car than what happened to Camille.
In flashbacks over the next few episodes, Adora’s disdain for her eldest daughter comes through. We see mother reject daughter after Camille throws a fit at her sister’s funeral. There’s no compassion in her mother’s arms as she pushes her aside. In another moment, Camille goes to find her mom after being sexually assaulted, and the family’s maid Gayla (Emily Yancy) turns her away. During a present-day fight, Camille’s independent streak is found to be the cause of Adora’s resentment. “You were always so willful. Never sweet,” Adora accuses her.
Adora is shown to have some perceived control over Camille’s half-sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen). At the house, Amma mimics the frilly style her mother prefers and wears her hair neatly combed. But she’s a rebel, as Camille discovers her little sister likes to go out in short overalls, loose hair and drink with friends. Since we’ve already seen Adora’s rejection of Camille, there may be trouble for Amma should her good girl act get exposed.
Another issue that regularly infuriates Camille is Adora’s insistence on blaming her for everything that has gone wrong in her life. Adora fears Camille brings “chaos” with her wherever she goes. When Adora is working on her rose bush, she gets cut by a thorn and curses Camille for her injury. She loudly worries Camille is a bad influence on her sister Amma, and when tension arises between her and her passive wallflower of a husband, Alan (Henry Czerny), she blames that on Camille, too. Finally, Alan speaks up for Camille, finding his wife’s constant scapegoating as tiresome as we do.
“Sharp Objects” is just as much a story about a mother’s unkindness as it is about trauma, town gossip and murder. In bringing Adora under the darkened shadows of a stylish thriller, the show paints her in grotesque light.
In recounting the story of a crime scene, Camille says, “In Wind Gap, every woman gets a nasty label if they don’t conform to the rules of engagement.”