Monday, January 10, 2011

And, Action!

2010 was a good year for literary moviegoers. There were the much talked about adaptations of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (has there ever been a movie trailer to get more play?), and Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island. While the delightfully cheesy teen flick Easy A was more of a nod to The Scarlet Letter than a remake, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person for whom it brought memories of reading the book in high school crashing back. And let’s not forget the almost unprecedented hype surrounding who would play the female lead in the American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy (newcomer Rooney Mara eventually won the coveted role).

With Kathryn Stockett’s runaway hit The Help in production, Baz Luhrmann’s plan to remake The Great Gatsby with an all star cast, and James Franco’s announcement last week that he is planning to direct adaptations of both William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, 2011 doesn’t show any signs of slowing down the trend.

While all of these books are certainly worthy of a go at the big screen, I can’t help wondering how those who call the shots pick which classics and contemporary hits to make. I finally read John Kennedy Toole’s The Confederacy of Dunces this past December, and I couldn’t help but picture Zach Galifianakis delivering all of Ignatius J. Reilly’s unforgettable lines as I did. Kathy Bates could play his loving but frustrated boozehound of a mother, and has there ever been a more perfect role for Betty White than that of Trixie? Mark Ruffalo would be a natural at the bumbling Mancuso, with Chris Cooper as his unforgiving boss.

Below are four other books, both classic and from this year, that also feel like naturals for movie magic:

The Catcher in the Rye

Admittedly it was the plans to remake Gatsby that first invited my interest in this other great American favorite. With two previous Gatsby adaptations and another in the works, doesn’t it feel like Catcher is due a turn? Admittedly, it was Salinger’s refusal to sell the movie rights that have stalled any efforts on this front. (After the 1949 adaptation of his short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” flopped Salinger became reticent to allow any other goes at his masterpieces.) Not surprisingly, attempts to secure the rights have been made steadily since the books 1951 publication. (Both Harvey Weinstein and Steven Spielberg allegedly recently made bids). There’s hope yet, though. A 1957 letter penned by Salinger expressed the possibility that the rights might be sold after his death. Terrence Malick (director of The Thin Red Line and the much anticipated Tree of Life starring Brad Pitt) is rumored to be connected to a possible screen adaptation.

Should the movie version ever become more than a pipe dream, I nominate Jesse Eisenberg to play our beloved Holden. In 2010’s The Social Network he proved himself capable of playing the brilliant and misunderstood outcast type, and his debut film The Squid and the Whale was rife with the familial discontent aspect of the classic tale. Perhaps he’s a little old, but with that baby face I imagine he can suspend the disbelief of the skeptics.

Mr. Peanut

Full of references to Hitchcock’s body of film, this one feels destined for the big screen. With its nonlinear and unconventional format, Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame might be just the director for it. Equally capable of doing drama and comedy, I see Matt Damon in the lead as David Pepin, alleged wife-killer. (His recent weight gain and his mustachioed look for True Grit also help.) Rebecca Hall seems a good fit for his ill-fated wife, Alice, if we can find a believable enough body suit? (Alice’s struggle with obesity is central to the narrative.) The fascinating middle section of the book fictionalizes the real life murder of Marilyn Sheppard by, many believe, her surgeon husband, Sam. (The case is the same one on which the movie and television show The Fugitive were based.) With a resume full of both regal roles and those saturated in upper-middle-class discontent I can’t think of anyone better-suited for the roll of Marilyn than Julianne Moore, and Liam Neeson feels like one of the few leading men with enough gravitas to pull off Sam.

Happy All the Time

Okay, I know I’ve already gushed about this book via this blog, but it’s good enough that it’s worth harping on. (And I know I’m in good company in wanting it to make a comeback. Twice in the summer week I spent reading this at various Park Slope cafes twenty-something ladies approached me to tell me how glad they were to see someone reading it—that they had just discovered and delighted in it themselves, but thought they were the only one to read it in the last ten years!) With all the New York City neuroses flying, it’s got Woody Allen written all over it. I see the Columbia-educated Joseph Gordon Leavitt as the serious, scholarly Guido, a big fan of pursuing graduate studies over a 9-5 job and a lover of the finer arts, and Jason Segal would serve as a brilliant Vincent, the perpetual fool for Misty Berkowitz. (His lovely, bumbling Marshall on How I Met Your Mother is certainly a kindred spirit of Vincent’s.) At the risk of plagiarizing the cast list for 500 Days of Summer I think Zooey Deschanel would be the perfect Holly opposite Guido—she’s the Queen of Quirk, and Holly is nothing if not quirky. Meanwhile, Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of the few female leads with the chops to bring Misty’s ferocity to the screen while maintaining her likeability.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

If you didn’t read anything about this one in 2010 you were officially living under a rock. While it’s not rare for the media to pick up a book as the darling of the season, it is unusual for said book to not only live up to but surpass the hype. I clung to every last word Egan had to offer and long for the movie version only so I can re-experience the magic of her characters. (I get so jealous when I see people reading it on the subway—I want another book this good to occupy my transportation hours!) Grown up Benny is just begging to be played by Robert Downey, Jr. and Michelle Williams has proven how believably she can give the tough women she plays an undercurrent of vulnerability, which may make her the perfect Sasha. Joaquin Phoenix seems like the ideal wounded oddball introvert to take the roll of the tragic Rob, and Carey Mulligan would make the small roll of Charlene as memorable on screen as it was in the book despite the relatively little space she’s given. (I know it seems like Mulligan has already done her share of movie adaptations, but there do seem to be repeat offenders in this movie genre. It kind of makes one wonder if DiCaprio, another fan of book-inspired films—2009’s Revolutionary Road comes to mind—might be a solid book group partner despite his string of supermodel girlfriends?)

1 comment:

  1. Caroline, I love your casting. Excellent all around, even if I do despise Ms. Deschanel.