Monday, July 02, 2007

favorite novel -> film adaptations

A writer/producer friend gave me a copy of her script to read, which I did last weekend. It's based on a novel published about ten years ago and similar in tone to The Devil Wears Prada. I really liked it and was very impressed by the first-time writer. It got me thinking about my favorite novel-to-film adaptations. I ran across this list of other writers' favorites, which prompted me to jot down some of mine. I don't list the film if I didn't read the book, otherwise I'm sure you'd see The House of Sand and Fog, The Thin Red Line, Ghost World, Out of Sight, A Room With A View, L.A. Confidential, A River Runs Through It, The Notebook, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and many more others on this list.

Wonder Boys - by Michael Chabon, screeplay adapted by Steve Kloves - I've read and re-read this book and watched this movie countless times. It's the perfect adaptation, wouldn't change a thing except for the casting of Katie Holmes. She's not as bad as Claire Danes (who ruins every movie she's in and thankfully isn't in this), but whatever. I fell in love with all the characters - Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey, Jr. and Toby Maguire are all wonderful in this one.

The Virgin Suicides - by Jeffrey Eugenides, screenplay adapted by Sofia Coppola - Whenever my cousins get to talking about what it was like to grow up in the 70's, I think of this movie. Remember being young and feeling everything so deeply and intensely, whether it was depression or love?

The Age of Innocence - by Edith Wharton, adapted by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese - I read the book while I was in NYC in 1993, before I saw the movie. It was pretty amazing to read the book and walk down those same streets, in awe of how Wharton captured something that was still so resonant and relevant, all these years later.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being - by Milan Kundera, adapted by Jean-Claude Carriere and Philip Kaufman AND
The English Patient - by Michael Ondaatje, adapted by Anthony Minghella - For both these films, here's a big "Oh yeah?" to anyone who says a novel is unfilmable. I read both books after seeing the movies, an order I probably should've reversed. After I saw The English Patient in the theater, my date practically had to carry me out of the theater, I was crying so hard. It's embarrassing to think about it now, but back then I didn't care. The theater had emptied out, we were the only ones sitting there and I was sobbing audibly, trying to dry my eyes. He asked me, "Are you going to be okay?" I replied, "I'm okay (sob), I just (sob even more), I just need a minute." I don't think he asked me out again after that.

Sophie's Choice - by William Styron, adapted by Alan J. Pakula - Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol. What can I say about this book or movie that hasn't already been said? Beautiful and heartbreaking.

The Devil Wears Prada - by Lauren Weisberger, adapted by Aline Brosh McKenna - My old Drug Buddy gave me a copy of the book, urging me to read it. I thought the book was just okay and dismissed it as superficial chick-lit. When I told her my thoughts on the book, she said, "My point was that you should write some chick-lit. Your stories are so much better. Funnier and much more outrageous than that shit." Whatever. I toyed with the idea of writing a novel, but ultimately realized I wanted to focus on screenwriting. In any case, Meryl Streep elevated the screenplay and made this movie.

Postcards from the Edge - book and screenplay by Carrie Fisher - Maybe I just really love Meryl Streep, seeing as this is the third adaptation I've listed that she stars in. The book is hilarious, but who knew Meryl Streep was so funny?

The Outsiders - by S.E. Hinton, adaptation by Kathleen Rowell - I had a Social Studies class in high school that consisted of reading the book and then watching the movie over and over until the end of the semester. I think because my teacher, Harve Keller, had a crush on Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, and C. Thomas Howell (but not Ralph Macchio). Either that or he felt, like I did, that this wonderful film retained what the books got right - the essence of the class struggle between the haves and have-nots. Or that Scorsese managed to pull out some solid performances from a then-young and relatively inexperienced cast. So many reasons to love this movie. A few years ago a friend of mine dyed his hair blonde like C. Thomas Howell did in the movie. All his smartass friends (including me) and coworkers stopped calling him "Sparky" and started calling him "Ponyboy".

Joy Luck Club - book and screenplay by Amy Tan - This is a guilty pleasure. Love the book, love the director, Wayne Wang, and despite itself, I love the film. A month or so ago, Wayne Wang was at a seminar at the Asian American Film Festival in Little Tokyo. When asked how he got through a particularly difficult film shoot, he replied, "Drugs helped." He then laughed uproariously, his laugh sounding like an old Chevy engine that wouldn't turn over. He continued laughing long after the audience had stopped laughing, prompting another outburst.

Hopefully, sometime in the beautiful, bright, shiny future, someone somewhere will be compiling their list of favorite novel-to-film adaptations and my future contribution will be listed. But that's in the future and I'm still working on my rewrite. I better get back to work.


jim said...

you forgot the garfield movie.

Michael J. Farrand said...

Great post. Thought you might like to see my thoughts on adapting for the screen.