By The Books (Or Not)

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Well, well. For everyone who says the publishing industry is in trouble, I don’t believe it will go anywhere soon. Why? Because books provide the source material for such a HUGE portion of the movie industry these days – especially as evidenced in my reading of last night’s “Summer Movie Preview” issue of Entertainment Weekly.

Even just rewinding to the last Academy Awards, of the best picture nominees, Up In The Air, Precious, and The Blindside (3/10) were all based on best-selling books. Some of the biggest movie franchises today – Harry Potter and Twilight – are based on book series, and comic books are providing no end of heroes and villains to bring to life on the big screen.

As glorious as this all might seem, Hollywood also has a problem with adapting books. On one hand, books provide scriptwriters an incredible wealth of character motivation and back story that should make it easier to bring fully-rounded characters to life on screen. On the other hand, books almost provide too much, that it’s rare for a film to live up to its book origins.

Exceptions to that rule? The first Bridget Jones film outshines anything else in the franchise. The Devil Wears Prada was leaps and bounds more interesting and cheeky than the book (although some people say they love them both equally). Sex and the City the TV show was shockingly better compared to the book characterization. And to my surprise, I think I kind of enjoyed Precious the movie better than Push the book. For all the hype the story got about how dramatic and sad it was, it hit me a lot harder the way the story was told in the film over the book.

I’m sure I could cite a few more. The Godfather, although I haven’t read it yet, I imagine shines on film more than in ripped-up paperback form. My book club actually specifically reads books that have been turned into movies, so I should have more to say on that specific topic. I think the only book I really enjoyed the Hollywood-ization of (making the actresses younger / more interesting) was The Jane Austen Book Club. In every other case I think the book has edged out the movie, sometimes by leaps and bounds (Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil), sometimes marginally (Breakfast at Tiffany’s). We’re doing PD James’ Children Of Men next – I was surprisingly enamoured with the film so I hope the book lives up to my high expectations.

The entire point of this post was to talk about two movie/book projects that I’ve definitely got my eye on. The first is Sara Gruen’s ‘Water for Elephants’, a book I absolutely adored when I read it back in 2008. It made my top 5 list (from 50) for the year quite easily.

With the casting announced, I have some reservations. I ‘cast’ books in my head when I’m reading them, most of the time. Sometimes I can conjure up a vague image of a character without leaning back on a celebrity stand-in, other times I can easily picture who should play a role. I generally hate when, going into a book, I know who the actors are – unless I think they’ll actually be good for it (Reese Witherspoon’s decision to option London is the Best City in America is a prime example, she’s right on for the role). Anyway, to my surprise, Hollywood appears to have aged our characters a bit from what I envisioned when reading the book.

Water For Elephants will feature Robert Pattinson in the main role of Jacob Jankowski, a young almost-vet who, after the demise of his family & home life, finds himself as part of a traveling circus. Reese Witherspoon plays Marlena, the star of the show and the apple of Jacob’s eye, but also the wife of ring master August, who will be played by the incredibly awesome Christoph Waltz.

My initial general thoughts?:

Reese is way older than I thought Marlena would be (I was picturing Hayden Panettiere at some points during reading it), but she does do a good feisty / pious hybrid

Christoph is way older than I thought he’d be, but sort of a brilliant choice, and a great choice on his part in terms of a follow-up from Inglourious Basterds. I had pictured Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser (Pete) in my younger casting.

R Pattz. Ech. I’d like to believe you can judge a book by it’s Twilight-y cover, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of acting abilities. But he’s just so far from what I pictured in terms of age, appearance, voice, everything! Then again, I can kind of picture him in depression-era clothing. Kind of.

Now, I happened to get a copy of the WFE script. I don’t know if it’s *the* script they’re actually going to be shooting off of right away, but I imagine it very well could be, or at least be pretty close to it. I have to say, the script reads great. The characters leap off the page as they did in the book, and I could see how the lines / performances would play to the strengths of each of our three leads. The story is surprisingly more skewed to Jacob and August so far (I’m about halfway through), more than I remembered it being in the book, but the hints of a flirtation between Jacob and Marlena are there. So far the script captures the magic of the circus, a bit of honest humour, some action sequences that fit with the plot, and sparks of young love. I like it, and I’m growing to accept the characters in their roles, however off-base my mind-casting was.

On the flip side, we have Emily Giffin’s first two novels, Something Borrowed, and its follow-up, Something Blue. Emily Giffin is pretty much one of the top chick lit writers out there – her work is consistently engaging, well-written, intelligent, and relevant. I was surprised but also not surprised to see her stuff coming to life on the big screen, my main fear being that they’ll totally pacify the intelligence in her writing in favour of cheap gags and girly giddiness (as per the horrific adaptation of Confessions of a Shopaholic).

The casting for this one is even more disconcerting than the above. The story in Something Borrowed follows the point of view of a mousy lawyer named Rachel, forever in the shadow of her to-be-wed best buddy Darcy. On the night of Darcy’s stagette however, it’s Rachel who engages in some debauchery when she ends up in bed with Darcy’s fiancée Dex. What unravels from there is a question as to who Dex really belongs with (or to), the complicated rules of frenemies, and shocking revelation after revelation.

Darcy is supposed to be a show-stopping glam girl, feisty, bossy, snobby…your proto-typical Mean Girl, but a brunette! I also pictured Lila Fowler from Sweet Valley. In fact, I pictured the exact image of Lila Fowler from the Sweet Valley board game that I own. Instead, I find that she will be played by the ever-dippy Kate Hudson. This is so wrong in so many ways. I’m ambivalent about Kate on the best of days, but her in this role is mind-bogglingly wrong. Even when she’s trying to be slightly more serious or interesting (like her character Andee in How To Lose A Guy…), she still comes off as “Hey, look at me, aren’t I cute?”

Darcy is NOT that character, and it does NOT bode well this is who they’ve cast in her role. Added to that? Darcy is supposed to be a bodacious brunette. No offence to Kate, but her body type / if they have indeed recast her as a blonde, is just not Darcy. Agh!

I think that part of the casting angers me the most. The guy they picked to be Dex seems decent (another top choice in *recent* memory would be the guy starring in that White Collar show), Colin Farrell as Marcus is an interesting / surprisingly good choice, and John Krasinski as Ethan is a sweet, but different choice than I’d have expected.

Our other leading lady is Rachel, who has been cast as Ginnifer Goodwin.

I picked Alicia Silverstone for this, because let’s face it – she’s likable, she’s the right age, and she can play a dressed down humble friend next to a more bombshell actress (ugh, if that actress weren’t Kate Hudson). Ginnifer…to date, her roles have all been unsympathetic, irritating, chit chattery girls. The moral complexities are already blurred in this retelling of the story if you have a “why me? Poor me!” actress in the Rachel role over someone that you want to root for a bit, even when you lament over how *wrong* everything is. I’m worried that Ginnifer will play it as a ‘rise of the ugly duckling’ which is only part of the story at hand.

Circling back to Darcy, I’ve given you my Rachel casting. Darcy was a hard one for me to cast even as I read the book (hence the Lila Fowler image). When I heard about the horrendous casting of Kate Hudson, I rattled off a list of other potentials, including:
- Malin Akerman (with dyed hair)
- Olivia Wilde
- Lake Bell (actually a perfect choice as Alicia & Lake costarred on Miss Match)
- Diane Kruger
- Sienna Miller
- Rachel McAdams (circa Mean Girls but with brown hair – girl can take a mean girl and make her sympathetic, which is what this role NEEDS)
- Mischa Barton
- Megan Fox (probably too young)

I mean, who knows, maybe Kate Hudson will put on a transformative performance and I will buy her as Darcy. I’m trying to think of movies that have accomplished such a transformation…Cameron Diaz as the mom, Sara, in My Sister’s Keeper. That’s one! She was great in that movie, shockingly so as she falls into the “Love me for my cuteness!” category with Kate. But I’m still having a really hard time getting excited for Giffin’s books on the big screen with this ominous casting.

Well this was a mammoth post. Time to finish reading the Water for Elephants screenplay.

- Britt’s On


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