October 27, 2005


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The film adaptation of books that is. The latest film script adapted from a book to catch me by surprise is Shopgirl, written by Steve Martin. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a movie soon to be widely released and stars Claire Danes as the title character Mirabelle, while Steve Martin and Jason Schwartzman play the men waiting in line to court her. The book is one of my favorites, and the way that Steve Martin taps into the psyche of a young twenty-something woman is unparalleled. It’s a subtle masterpiece from an unlikely literary visionary and is more or less a book filled with the normalcy of dealing with the pangs of love and sadness, often a little bit of both, in modern, complicated everyday life. I read it for the first time last summer and I highly recommend it to anyone.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but judging from the website and trailer, it has all the makings of a good film. But it’s a Hollywood production, and looks like it has been given the usual tidy gloss over that so many screenplays have suffered at the hand of opportunistic movie execs. Claire Danes is a good Mirabelle, the frailly beautiful yet slightly unhinged lead, and I wouldn’t have expected otherwise, but when reading the book I never dreamed of Steve Martin assuming the role of Ray Porter. I just imagined a person a bit more suave, a bit more stern and serious than the rubber-faced, good-natured Martin. And Jason Schwartzman is a perfect choice for the role of the younger not-so-put-together love interest, but it seems that the movie expanded his role. It makes more sense in how the sequence of events would play out on screen, but I still prefer it when filmmakers do not compromise the story’s true premise.

In reading information about this film, I began to think about other film adaptations of books. I guess that’s exactly what they are – adaptations, which are defined in the dictionary as being “Something that is changed to become suitable to a new application, or a composition that has been recast into a new form.” Yet sometimes what we call literary adaptations in movies end up being completely different from their novel inspirations. Nick Hornby’s About a Boy got a shrill make over; it barely resembles the original text. And the film version of Helen Fielding’s The Edge of Reason created a lesbian crush where there was none and made Bridget Jones an inadaptable codependent basket case. It’s a tough job, but also very possible to create a film adapted from a book that stays true to form. Here are a couple of good ones:

The Color Purple
Is it possible to say that the movie The Color Purple is one of my favorite films but the novel is not one of my favorite books? I think so. The only film adaptation I found to be quality enough to meet or even rival the author’s literary accomplishment would be Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple. Whoopi Goldberg displays her impeccable acting skills and truly personifies the character of Celie, I mean literally owns it. Such a complete and utter transformation; from Goldberg’s boisterous and humorous self arises this homely, quiet, desperate woman, victimized her entire life and grappling with finding her own voice in a patriarchal racist society. I think I like Spielberg’s adaptation so much because it reconciles many of the issues I had with the book. The movie humanizes the character of Suge, the woman that becomes both Celie and Mr.’s lover, and finds her to be more empathetic with Celie’s abusive marriage and lost connections to her family and it is less forgiving of Mr. than the book, both things I found myself looking for in Walker’s novel. When Celie is driving away from Mr.’s house screaming at the top of her lungs, “I’s still here,” forget about it – I’m floored.

Hanging Up
Another movie that I found to be an interesting interpretation of a book is Hanging Up. Written by author Delia Ephron, the movie was directed by her filmmaker sister, Nora. Together, the two create a film that deals with the truth about family drama: you can’t live with it, but could you really live without it? I actually read the book after watching the movie, and found that in terms of moments where the book is a bit scattered and doesn’t come full circle or to terms with all of the issues raised in the characters’ lives, the movie does a wonderful job finding resolution. The movie is filled with magnificent performances by a collagen-free Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow and sadly, a final appearance onscreen by Walter Matthau. This is an instance where the book’s scruples are aided by the tightness of the film’s well-honed script.

Of course I couldn’t write this without making mention of Renee Zellweger’s brilliant first hand at the Bridget Jones Diary franchise, and the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice starring a well-suited Colin Firth. I just wish these weren’t the exception to the rule.

Archived article by Sophia Asare
Sun Staff Writer