Out of the big four types of pop culture entertainment – Movies, TV, Books, Music – movies are probably my least favorite. I enjoy going to the movie theater, but that isn’t so easy once you have kids. And as for at-home entertainment, I’m more likely to binge-watch Breaking Bad instead of Netflixing a movie.
But I do tend to make one exception for movies based on books that I have enjoyed. Last winter, even when I was in a fog of newborn baby sleeplessness, I rented the Perks of Being a Wallflower. I watched it over two nights, simultaneously calming a baby through her evening fussy spell, and turned it off by 8 p.m. so I could grasp as much sleep as possible. But I made the effort, because I wanted to see how something so wonderful to me as a book would translate as a movie. (Also to see Emma Watson in a post-Hermione role, which she handled quite capably.)
I’m a big believer that books can transfer well to the screen, and do not need to be completely faithful to the source material (gasp) in order to do so. My criteria is that the movies somehow keep the spirit of the books. That the characters come alive and the actors inhabit them fully, in a way that makes sense, even if it’s not exactly what I pictured in my head. That the setting and atmosphere and mood remain the same, even if the plot details don’t. I almost always like the books better, because to me books are richer and fuller, but I don’t think a good movie adaptation needs to be slavishly devoted to the source material. Books and movies are two completely different ways of telling a story.
I guess I’ll have to make more of an effort to see movies in 2014, because there are a lot coming out based on books I’ve loved, including The Fault in our Stars and Wild.
If you haven’t actually read the Fault in Our Stars yet, you need to stop what you are doing right now and go find yourself a copy and read it without interruptions except to sob. It’s that good. And you should trust me on this. I don’t like overly sentimental things. John Green’s story about two teenagers who meet at a cancer support group is many things – witty, warm, thought provoking – but what it isn’t is emotionally manipulative. Yes, it is a sad book and there’s no getting around that. But it is saved from being maudlin by the writing and the characters.
So I actually really really liked the trailer for the movie, due out in June. (Watch it here). I now realize thanks to the internet that some people did not like the trailer, but so far I am optimistic. When I first heard they were making this into a movie, and then heard they had cast Shailene Woodley (teen actress du jour), I was uncertain. How on earth could a book that relies so much on the author’s pure wit and grace transfer to the screen without feeling like a Lifetime soap? This trailer, for the first time, makes me feel kind of hopeful.
I’m a bit more skeptical about the movie adaptation of Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s story about coming to terms with her mother’s death by hiking the harrowing Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl (I love her, I will call her by her first name) made a lot of questionable choices both before and during her time on the trail, and while I read the books I focused more on those choices and how much I wanted to give her a good smack and tell her to stop being stupid. But what has stuck with me after reading this book – and especially after reading Tiny Beautiful Things, her book of advice columns – is that those same choices helped give her the hard-earned wisdom and empathy that I think only people who have gone through some seriously icky things possess.
The setting itself – wild rugged outdoors – is cinematic, but the book is very internal, and it’s difficult to envision a work focused on isolated personal growth easily making the leap to movies.
I also question the choice of Reese Witherspoon as lead. I like Reese. I think she is a good actress, with a range beyond romantic comedies. I think despite her cutesy demeanor Reese can play the slightly off-the-rails Cheryl. And what actress wouldn’t want to sink her teeth into a meaty, mainly solo role.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think that Reese is simply too old. She is 37, and at the time Cheryl hiked the PCT she was only 26. Her mother died, her family broke up, and her marriage dissolved by the time she was 22. That is a big deal. Age does impact our reaction to life events; we simply deal with things differently in our 20s than in our 30s. So either Reese plays young, or the character is made older. I’d rather the former because I think her youth is important to the story, but I’m not sure it can work. Not because Reese “looks” old, but because I can’t think it’s easy to shed the confidence and insight 10 more years of life gets you. (Not to join the Jennifer Lawrence should play every role bandwagon, but she is the actress who sprang to my mind for this part.)
This post was also going to contain my so-far favorite movies that have been adapted from books, but this got surprisingly long and will have to wait until next week. Any movies you are excited to see based on the books? I’m also looking forward to Gone Girl and Mockingjay Part 1.
And have you read a Fault in Our Stars? You know you should, right?