Monday, April 24, 2023

Recasting 2018 (supporting): "Sharp Objects"

Not long after Meryl starred in the second season of Big Little Lies, I came across an interesting article that bemoaned the paucity of good screen acting roles for women of a certain generation. Specifically, the article honed in on the fact that female characters for which much of the television awards recognition came that year (at least in the supporting categories), happened to be of women one might tend to describe as "crazy." There was Meryl's nutty mom trying to commit her daughter-in-law in BLL, Jessica Lange in The Politician (shocking that Lange took a role as a disturbed person eye roll), Patricia Arquette in The Act. This last one showcases a mother with a psychological disorder called Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which someone makes someone else, or keeps them, ill for attention. There's good points to consider in the question of why there weren't or aren't better roles than crazy moms for these ladies. It's a debate certainly worth having. That said, I don't think such characters should automatically be removed from the screen. There's definitely some truth and real-life examples that substantiate this sort of depiction, even if in 2019, there happened to be a large number of them all at once, making it seem perhaps a bit like veteran actresses are getting relegated to portraying an archetype of unstable loons. 

In director Jean-Marc Vallée's (season 1 of Big Little Lies, Dallas Buyers Club) HBO limited series, Sharp Objects, we see another one of these characters who demonstrates the same illness as that of Arquette's. Based on Gillian Flynn's novel of the same name, Sharp Objects follows a journalist, Camille (Amy Adams), who returns to her southern hometown and to the peculiar mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), from whom she is estranged. Camille investigates the death of two teenage girls in her hometown in Missouri, which antagonizes her mother, who's a wealthy owner of a hog factory and is consumed by maintaining appearances of being a refined Southern belle. But as it turns out (spoiler alert), Adora is responsible for the death of Camille's sister years ago and is currently doing the same thing to Camille's younger half-sister, Amma (portrayed by the stellar Eliza Scanlen). Additional spoiler(!): Amma is the killer of the teenage girls in town.

I've seen interviews with Patricia Clarkson where she talked about how she approached her role. I imagine it's not a unique response among actors when she described Adora as someone for whom she had to have understanding, or even love. That may be the key to convincingly and humanely portraying any character. We all believe in what we want and what motivates us, no matter how vile or incomprehensible that may be to anyone else. It's why I think it's OK that we see these types of characters for veteran actors. Not that being mentally ill is the only facet of a character that could possibly make a woman over 50 interesting, but I don't think it's something that needs to be shuttered from depiction. And I think it's done tastefully and with compassion in this series. I also just love the setting. For whatever reason, I've always been drawn the gentility and refinement of certain southern customs (definitely not the slave-owning one), and Sharp Objects has many of those on display, including the gorgeous house Adora lives in and the fact that it's always sunny and hot and yet people don't seem to be sweating that badly. 

The production was a major critical success, currently holding a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 78 score on Metacritic. Along with Emmy and SAG nominations, Clarkson won the Golden Globe for Supporting Actress. I tend to think winning this category at the Globes is a little more impressive, because the nominees are drawn from the categories of series, limited series and television movie. Clarkson definitely deserved the win. Amy Adams made the rounds with noms at all the major awards shows as well, although she didn't manage to win any of them (unless I start counting the Critics' Choice Awards). The show itself also managed a Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for Best Limited Series, while Vallée was nominated by the Directors Guild of America for his directing.  



  1. I've not actually seen "Sharp Objects" although I'd heard of it at the time and remember it got a good reception. Meryl's character in BLL started off with a lot of promise (that scream, the acidic exchange with Reese Witherspoon etc..) but kinda fizzled out if I remember correctly. I think she got some good material in the courtroom finale but I was sorry the second season didn't match the overall popularity of the first.

    Anyway, two obvious supporting roles from 2019 are Laura Dern's divorce attorney in "Marriage Story" and Jamie Lee Curtis' bereaved daughter in "Knives Out". I remember MS getting very high praise when it came out, with some writers claiming it was a modern day "Kramer vs Kramer". Not so in my opinion! While the movie is fine I really didn't think it was anything new or interesting, and Laura's character is so thinly drawn I'm still surprised she got an Oscar for it. I recently watched "Knives Out" for the first time and have no idea what the fuss was about here either. It wasn't bad but my goodness I was expecting a classic!

    Sorry for the diatribe, I guess we should never let critical consensus set up our expectations too high! I will choose the role of Senator Dianne Feinstein in "The Report" as played by Annette Bening, largely because of the important subject matter and timely nature of the movie, as the 2010s drew to a close and worldwide politics were in a tailspin. The movie was similarly "well received" and dealt with similar themes to some of Meryl's earlier political movies which perhaps didn't fare quite so well..

    1. Totally with you on being a bit perplexed at the reactions to Dern's performance in Marriage Story. I think it's a fine role, but I'm sure it was even worthy of a nom much less a win. I think Dern elevated it, but there was nothing particularly fascinating to do aside from one brief feminist monologue. It felt too similar to the style of Renata in BLL for which she's already received an Emmy. Seemed more like there was just a good narrative for Laura.


  3. Meryl Streep will be the recipient of this year’s Princess of Asturias award for achievements in the Arts. The ceremony will take place in Oviedo (Spain).