It begins over a book: Their Eyes Were Watching God. A sliver of detail in the opening scene of Sharper, an Apple TV+ thriller starring Julianne Moore, Sebastian Stan, Justice Smith, Briana Middleton and John Lithgow.
The wheels to a long con (ultimately targeting the fortune of a billionaire Upper East Sider played by Lithgow) begin turning as the song Ruler Of My Heart serenades in the background. This is all happening in Stories Rare & Used Books at 131 Thompson Street in SoHo, NYC. Here’s the kicker, though: Stories Rare & Used Books doesn’t really exist. Much like the stories in this film, nothing is what it seems – but the ‘bullshit’ in the details were no mistake.
ESF spoke with Janice Berkson, owner of Decco Jewels, which has stood strong at 131 Thompson Street for 28 years running. Berkson told us Sharper filmed in a vacant storefront of her building in 2021. Why did I call? Because the bookstore looked so charmingly cozy I wanted to go – on top of the fact that I was slightly shell-shocked I had never heard of this place. Still, I had a drop of skepticism about its actual existence, as movies create fictitious spaces all the time. The moral of this movie is right here – fact-check or get wrecked.
“Well, I’m impressed,” says Tom (played by Smith) after he hands over the title Middleton’s character (Sandra) asked for. She’s grateful and glowing in the dim light of the bookshop, with a smile so radiant you can tell Tom doesn’t want the moment to end.
“Um, there’s actually this little Japanese restaurant on Mott Street,” says Tom timidly. “Uh, if you’re not doing anything later, dinner’s on me.” Sandra politely declines the offer right before her credit card gets declined. The trap is set.
Tom insists Sandra takes leather bound Their Eyes Were Watching God by American author Zora Neale Hurtson. “I promise I’ll be back with the money,” is probably the most fitting line Sandra can deliver in this moment, as a leap of faith has now bonded the characters.
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First published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God earned a spot on PBS’s The Great American Read top 100 list where Americans voted on the country’s most beloved novels. Novelist Zadie Smith described the book as “A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who don’t know how to live properly.”
Zadie Smith’s summation embodies the spirit of the movie Sharper. It’s a tip of the cap at the top of the flick that could easily slip through the cracks of the viewer. But if you caught it, you likely had an advantage following the direction of the story.
“I actually wanted to say yes,” beams Sandra when she returns to Tom’s bookstore with the money she owed him from earlier. Now she’s ready to go to that Japanese restaurant on Mott Street. Away they go.
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The two trade intimate stories at Karakatta, a real Japanese ramen spot in NYC. Except Karakatta is not on Mott Street as the movie details. In reality, it’s located at 230 Thompson Street, just a 5-minute walk north from the fictional Stories Rare & Used Books.
Again, things are not what they seem … but it’s a fictitious movie; who cares!
Cue the next clue.
“And one night I started reading Jane Eyrne, and here was this character that was sort of going through everything I was going through. And I didn’t want it to end,” confides Sandra after noting both her parents passed away and she and her brother grew up hopping from foster family to foster family. “I just finished it, went back to page one, and started reading it all over again. Just loved books ever since.”
This strikes a chord with Tom, who replies earnestly: “Jane Eyre, huh?”
“Jane Eyre,” says Sandra.
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Originally published in 1847: Jane Eyre: An Autobiography was written under the pen name “Currer Bell.” However, the book is not an autobiography at all. It’s written as a first-person narrative by Charlotte Brontë who used the alias because she “believed women writers were judged too softly,” wrote History.com. “The book, about the struggles of an orphan girl who grows up to become a governess, was an immediate popular success.”
Jane Eyre also made PBS’s The Great American Read top 100 list.
This title sparks something in Tom. “Can I show you something?” he asks.
Cut to Tom sashaying into his bookstore. He gets a key out of the register and unlocks a bookcase in the back. Sandra is laughing all giddy behind him.
Then it’s revealed: A first edition issue of Jane Eyre: An Autobiography.
“Is this real?” Sandra asks. “This is real,” replies Tom proudly. This moment feels like the stars aligning but Sandra isn’t sold yet. “How can I be sure?” she whispers.
They kiss as I Won’t Let You Down by Curtis Harding begins playing. The song fades out to the lyrics, “Take your time and don’t go to strangers. The path they lay may lead to danger,” as the new couple lies in bed together.
Newsflash! We’re only 11 minutes into the movie right now. Lucky you, as our goal here is to avoid any significant spoilers while simply illuminating some key components (Easter eggs?) that could have easily been missed. Whether you’ve seen Sharper or are debating checking it out, we hope we’ve wet your beaks for more. But what’s at stake?
“IF ANYONE CAN seduce us in the money-hungry world of the Upper East Side, it’s Sebastian Stan. Even his Oscar-winning Sharper co-star and producer Julianne Moore agrees,” penned Hayley Peppin in Harper’s Bazaar.
While not obvious, Max (Sebastian Stan) gets out of a black limo under cover of sunglasses, dressed in all black at the 46-minute mark of the movie. Apple Pro Air Pods obnoxiously stand out in his ears as an Apple TV+ product placement. The song Slippery People by The Talking Heads is playing as the lyrics “Walk lightly, think of a time. You’d best believe, this thing is real,” synchronize to Max walking through the doors of 1215 Fifth Avenue, between East 102nd and 103rd Streets.
This address is known as the Brisbane House. In Sharper, it serves as the home to John Lithgow’s character, Richard Hobbes, who plays a man worth over $8 billion thanks to his hedge fund.
“Sharper – One who lives by their wits.” (Definition shown to the viewer right as the film begins.)