The 2012 novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn should have won the Pulitzer Prize, or, at the very least, a National Book Award, for its postmodern black comedy of manners on marriage and relationships.
David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of the same title, from a script by Flynn herself, was likewise snubbed at that year’s Academy Awards.
Flynn, a hybrid between Stephen King and Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Missouri’s answer to King’s Maine, debuted in 2006 with Sharp Objects, and mainstream literature as well as popular genre fiction have found a lovechild in her, too.
If you don’t know what to watch next, HBO’s Sharp Objects (2018) is available on Amazon Prime.
Marti Nixon’s psychological thriller miniseries was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series of Movie for Amy Adams, Outstanding Supporting Actress for Patricia Clarkson, and Outstanding Limited Series.
Flynn herself executive produced.
Recently released out of a Chicago hospital for self-mutilation, alcoholic crime journalist Camille Preaker (Adams) is assigned to cover multiple child murders in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri.
The visit forces her to reunite with her estranged mother, Adora Crellin (Clarkson), a small-town socialite.
As the mystery unfolds, the troubled Camille finds herself losing the battle with the demons from her past.
Camille is one of the great antiheroes in the Golden Age of Television, as desperately needed a woman for this archetype as Norma Bates.
Across a pseudo-feminist landscape of problematic superwomen who do not so much empower women with humanization as pander to their pocketbooks for corporate fat cats who run Hollywood from the other side of the glass ceiling, Adams’s turn is a breath of fresh air.
She is as flawed as any noir protagonist, but not at the expense of an ethical characterization.
What makes her a sympathetic leading lady are her faults, for she is as much a victim of Wind Gap’s violent misogyny (which is symptomatic of the slave state’s Confederate history) as the girls whose murders she’s compromising her own mental health to help investigate.
A contemporary Southern Gothic murder mystery in the same vein as William Faulkner and Daphne du Maurier, the quasi-Italian neorealistic setting calls to mind the juxtaposition of ancient Roman artifacts against postwar modernization in the aestheticism of Federico Fellini.
The production constructs a morose tone through the overexposed lighting of the cinematography and the suffocating diegesis of the soundtrack, provoking the same numbing mood as the traumatized main character between her broken interactions and dark flashbacks.
The Crellin family is the most dysfunctional this side of Tennessee Williams, even though they’re just as picture perfect. Anchoring this dichotomous image is Clarkson.
Adora recalls Blanche DuBois in the tradition of Scarlett O’Hara herself, Vivien Leigh, the aging Southern belle in a changing world, using her fading beauty to dress up the ugliness of Southern American culture in moth-eaten clothes.
Clarkson is an icy Hitchcock blonde where Adams is a psychologically tortured noir antihero.
But a filmic adaptation of Flynn’s book might have been stronger.
The episodic format of the miniseries pads some scenes for runtime until they’re filler, with subplots from secondary characters who pale in comparison to Camille’s character study and the murder mystery as a framing device.
Granted, at two and a half hours, Gone Girl still makes a meal of its source material, but not one frame of the final product belongs on the cutting room floor; the same can’t be said about Sharp Objects.
But if Sharp Objects is guilty of any sin, it’s being too much of a good thing.
Some would call it and its writer misogynistic, and the case could be made against the “false accusation” narrative in Gone Girl (though one could argue it’s a critique of “white woman gone missing” feminism), but Sharp Objects is not unsympathetic toward Camille, or even Adora.
To the critical viewer, it is more an indictment of its setting than its cast (like many Great American Writers, Gillian Flynn trained in the unsentimental, lowest-common-denominator mass appeal of commercial journalistic storytelling).
She is possessed of a Hitchcockian pragmatism for dolling up such universal themes of the human condition as sex and death with timeless craftsmanship and mastery, casting all her Tarantinoesque pulp fiction through the same literary lens as her masterpiece.