Hollywood has always looked to the literary world for inspiration, and this year is no exception. Just when you've had your fill of fluffy summer fare of The Hulk and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, the fall season brings Oscar-friendly films that have been adapted from some recent well-received novels. And while the success of a book is never indicative of how well the film adaptation will be conceived, it's always interesting to see how the Hollywood machine hacks away at our greatest literary icons.
Perhaps the most anticipated film adaptation of the season is The Human Stain, set to release on Sept. 26 and starring Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris. The 2000 novel by Philip Roth concluded his American Trilogy, which started with American Pastoral and I Married a Communist. Stain is set in 1998 during the Clinton impeachment trials. Professor Coleman Silk is kicked out of his small liberal arts college for making a perceived racist comment. As Silk's life crumbles around him, a journalist begins to investigate his life and discovers that Silk is a light-skinned African-American who has been passing himself off as a white Jewish man. While it will be interesting to see Hopkins portraying a black man passing himself off as a white man, the novel boldly delves into perception, race, and language, and if you can stand Roth's superfluous ranting on the demise of American culture, it's a book worth reading. Kidman plays Faunia Farley, Silk's 34-year-old, illiterate love interest.
Clint Eastwood directs Mystic River, to be released in theatres Oct. 3. Set in a blue-collar Boston neighborhood, River follows three childhood friends, Sean (Kevin Bacon), Dave (Tim Robbins), and Jimmy (Sean Penn), who are reunited when Jimmy's oldest daughter is murdered. The book, by Dennis Lehane, might as well have originally been written as a screenplay; short on description and heavy on the dialogue, it lumbers along at a predictable and methodical pace. Though admittedly devout followers of the hardboiled mystery genre have named Lehane the heir apparent to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the outsider that I am just doesn't see it. Thankfully the novel was adapted by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Conspiracy Theory, Blood Work, A Knight's Tale). With an all-star cast tackling some pretty dramatic events--Dave is accused of the murder and suffers psychological problems as a result of being kidnapped and sexually abused as a child, and Jimmy takes the law into his own hands after his daughter's death--don't expect a movie filled with subtlety, but it should make a flick worth watching.
Bouncing and Beds
My Life Without Me, scheduled to release in late September, is based on the Nanci Kincaid short story "Pretending the Bed Is a Raft." While the basic plots are the same, the film version beefs up the intensity and drama of the story, which follows Ann (Sarah Polley), who learns she is dying of cancer and decides not to tell anyone in her family. Instead, Ann creates a list of things she wants to accomplish before her death. While some of her goals are mundane tasks like losing weight and recording birthday greetings for all her children up until their 18th birthdays, others include taking on a lover (Mark Ruffalo) and finding a new wife for her husband (Scott Speedman). The movie version gives Ann only three months to live, while the short story never got that specific, and the film also adds a rekindled relationship with her incarcerated father, a plotline never mentioned in the story. Still, the basic premise is the same, and if the movie is anything like the story, we're in for a subtle, provocative, and thoughtful film.
Elmore Leonard, author of such books-cum-films as Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight, dives into the gritty world of Jack Ryan, an ex-con and drifter who lands a job as a caretaker in Hawaii, but still hungers for trouble. When Ryan (Owen Wilson) meets Nancy (Sara Foster), a young, sexy thrill-seeker and expert manipulator, he gets sucked into her schemes, and together the two embark on a deadly thrill they can't get out of. The Big Bounce is one of Leonard's earlier novels and his first break from the Western crime genre. The 1969 film adaptation The Big Bounce, which starred Ryan O'Neill in the title role, never quite found its rhythm, so it will be interesting to see how this latest remake separates itself from the the earlier film. While the plot sticks pretty closely to the novel, the setting of the film has been relocated from a high-class Michigan resort town to Hawaii. Bounce, which will hit theatres Sept. 26, also stars Morgan Freeman, Gary Sinise as Nancy's real-estate-tycoon lover, Scott Caan, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Bebe Neuwirth, Charlie Sheen, and Harry Dean Stanton. Leonard reportedly hated the 1969 film version of the book, so let's hope this go-round will satisfy the author and his fans.
If the film version of In the Cut is anything like the 1991 novel it's based on, I can guarantee the movie will not be rated PG. Author Susanna Moore puts the erotic in erotic thriller in her tale of Franny, a New York English professor who has a torrid affair with the police detective investigating a series of murders that take place in her neighborhood. With each sexual liaison, Franny must test the limits of her safety and desire. When her best friend is murdered, the titillating game becomes far more serious. While the novel certainly has the erotic part down, it needs some help with the thriller aspect. Franny's constant musings on urban semantics distances readers from the emotion of the story, and her eagerness to be dominated by the men in her life conflicts with the headstrong woman Moore attempts to portray. Jane Campion wrote the screenplay and directed the film version, which stars Meg Ryan as Franny and Mark Ruffalo as the police detective. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Franny's friend, and newcomer Sharrieff Pugh plays Franny's student. With its release date scheduled for late October, you may have already had your fill of the crime mystery story with The Big Bounce and Mystic River, but the female perspective from Moore and Campion should separate this film from the pack.
National bestseller Le Divorce is set to hit theatres with its film adaptation on Aug. 8. Le Divorce follows Isabel (Kate Hudson), a college dropout, from California to Paris, where she moves to live with her pregnant sister Roxy (Naomi Watts), a poet and Francophile recently abandoned by her French husband. Isabel must stay in Paris longer than she expected and soon finds herself having an affair with her brother-in-law's 70-year-old uncle. Le Divorce is the second installment of Diane Johnson's trilogy, which begins with Le Mariage, and ends with L'Affaire, which also hits bookstores this fall. Johnson has been called the female Henry James, and it's a comparison she doesn't shy away from. Indeed she makes overt references to James by naming her main character Isabel Walker in homage to James' heroine, Isabel Archer. And if she had any inkling that this book would ever be adapted to the screen, she certainly seems to have done her homework. The novel's opening paragraph begins, "I think of my story as a sort of film. In a film, this part would be under the credits, opening with an establishing shot from a high angle, perhaps the Eiffel Tower, panning tiny scenes far below of the foreign city...." While I don't necessarily think Johnson is the next James, she is one terrific writer, and her book is an absolute must-read. The film, directed by James Ivory and produced by Merchant-Ivory Productions, will have a lot to live up to: Le Divorce was a National Book Award finalist and won a California Book Awards gold medal for fiction. But with a talented cast, including Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Stephen Fry, Matthew Modine, Bebe Neuwirth, and Sam Waterston, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the film will be as breezy, charming, and intelligent as the novel on which it's based. BSW
The Human Stain by Philip Roth, Vintage Books, 2001, $14.
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, Harper Mass Market Paperbacks, 2002, $7.99.
The Big Bounce by Elmore Leonard, Harper Mass Market Paperbacks, 2003, $7.50.
"Pretending the Bed Is a Raft" from Pretending the Bed Is a Raft: Stories by Nanci Kincaid, Delta, 1998, $19.
In the Cut by Susanna Moore, Plume, 1999, $12.95.
Le Divorce by Diane Johnson, Plume, 1998, $12.95.