Friday Flix: Write Away
For the inaugural edition of Friday Flix, I think it’s appropriate to go over some movies that feature writers and writing. Kind of bridge the gap, if you will.
Let’s start with some that are part of my insignificant DVD collection:
- Finding Forrester: It’s a movie about a poor black kid named Jamal who meets a reclusive white author named William Forrester, who won the Pulitzer in the ’50s and then disappeared, and the bond they form as the old guy teaches the kid about writing. It’s a heartwarming story and I wish everyday that I could find a William Forrester hanging around my building. Sadly, I have not as of yet. And no kids are coming to me for writing advice either. Did I mention Sean Connery plays Forrester? And Anna Paquin plays Jamal’s sort of girlfriend? Yeah, baby.
- Wonder Boys: Based on the Michael Chabon novel, this is about Grady, an English professor who tokes weed and is screwing the chancellor of his university. In his class is James Leer, a brilliant though flaky writer. The sky starts falling for Grady during a party at the chancellor’s house, in which James murders the chancellor’s husband’s dog. At the same time, Grady has to fend off the advances of a female student, protect his magna opus Wonder Boys from his meddling editor, and keep the chancellor’s husband from finding out who shot the dog. The movie is actually better than the book in my opinion because they tossed out the Passover seder stuff at Grady’s wife’s house that really slowed things down to focus more on the relationship between Grady and James. With an all-star cast of Michael Douglas, Robert Downey, Jr., Tobey Maguire, and Frances McDormand you can’t go wrong here.
- Adaptation: This is one of the Good Nicolas Cage movies, unlike the many Terrible Nicolas Cage movies of recent years. Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, the guy who wrote the movie and the bizarre “Being John Malkovich” as he struggles to adapt the Susan Orleans’s “The Orchid Thief” into something people might want to watch. While Charlie struggles, his twin Donald finds sudden success with a seemingly awful script involving a serial killer, a detective, and a damsel in distress–who are all the same person. Take that, M. Night! It’s a little quirky, but every writer has probably experienced Charlie’s frustrations at one time or another. And there’s another all-star cast of Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper. Also a great cameo by Bryan Cox as Robert McKee, the real-life author of “Story,” a how-to book for writers. (In a bit of irony for this post, the director of Wonder Boys, Curtis Hanson, plays Orleans’s husband.)
- Capote: The first of two movies about Truman Capote and how he came about his mega-selling book, In Cold Blood. This is the one with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote, who struggles with writing the book while spending a lot of time with one of the killers. Catherine Keener plays his friend Harper Lee, who published To Kill A Mockingbird while Capote was working on his book. I keep meaning to watch this movie again, but things keep coming up.
- The Door in the Floor: This is an adaptation of the first third of John Irving’s novel A Widow For One Year. The book took place in the ’50s but the movie puts it in present day. Ted Cole is a writer of creepy children’s books who takes on 16-year-old Eddie for the summer as an assistant. Eddie soon realizes that Ted is a complete ass who’d rather while away the days getting drunk and having women get naked for “portraits” than do any real writing. At the same time, Eddie is drawn to Ted’s wife, who has been struggling to get over the death of the couple’s two sons. It was actually a really smart decision to just use this part of the book and shift the focus from the daughter Ruth to her parents, because the rest of Ruth’s story wasn’t that great. You got a couple of Oscar winners in Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger too, so it’s all good.
- Funny Farm: You might wonder: why the hell are you recommending a Chevy Chase movie? And I’d say, because it’s got some great writing-related stuff in it. The movie focuses on Chase, who moves out to the country town of Redbud with his wife so he can write The Great American Novel about four poker buddies knocking over a casino–because no one’s ever thought of anything that clever before. Soon they find out the town is full of loonies. Then professional jealousy creeps in as Chase can’t get his novel going while his wife breezes through writing a children’s book–by hand even! Since Chevy Chase is involved you get some slapstick humor, but the best scene is when he takes his wife to a remote bungalow for their anniversary and ambushes her with the first chapters of his novel. Then he demands she read it right there in front of him. In her critique she tells him to burn it; and you thought YOU got a harsh critique! Interestingly this is directed by the same director as the movie version of “World According to Garp,” which was also about a writer.
- Free Enterprise: This is an indie picture I just love. It’s about two sci-fi geek friends, aspiring director Robert and magazine editor Mark, who get the shock of a lifetime when they run into their hero Bill Shatner at a bookstore. They soon discover that Shatner is freaking nuts, trying to write a musical version of Julius Caesar in which he will play all of the male roles. This isn’t so much about writing but struggling artists in general. And you can’t beat watching Shatner rap!
There are of course plenty of other movies about writers and writing that I don’t own. To list them all would take a long, long time. But maybe if you’re bored of basketball, rent one of these this weekend.
The blog returns on Monday with another post about something in publishing that annoys me.