Friday, February 10, 2012

Who would want to be an author in film?

Posted by  -Thursday 9 February 2012 - 

Young Adult

Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary in Young Adult. 
Photograph: © 2011 Paramount

Jason Reitman's Young Adult is only the latest in a long line of films which portray authors as helpless, or vindictive, or both
In Jason Reitman's film Young Adult, released last week, Mavis Geary (Charlize Theron) returns to her midwest hometown to stalk a high school boyfriend, prompted by an email, with a picture of a newborn daughter, that shows him to be happily married. Mistakenly convinced he must nevertheless be still in love with her, she suffers a series of humiliations. Deluded, washed-up, twisted, alcoholic, she is also – it almost goes without saying, given Hollywood's stereotypes – a blocked writer, the movie taking its title from the generic novels she produces.
Here we go again, connoisseurs of cinema's portraits of fictional novelists may say. Two Stephen King adaptations, The Shining and Misery, offer extreme versions of two recurring types of writer. In the former, Jack Nicholson gradually becomes psychotic, eventually attacking his wife, as he tries to write in a deserted hotel; in the latter, James Caan's novelist is imprisoned by a fan, who inflicts lasting injuries on him and forces him to destroy his next novel's typescript.
A successful writer humbled is also at the centre of the Fay Weldon adaptation She-Devil, where romantic novelist Meryl Streep's lovely life gradually unravels (with the viewer expected to cheer each new setback) after she pairs off with Roseanne Barr's husband. Similarly persecuted, though this time seemingly by fate, is Woody Allen's Harry Block in Deconstructing Harry, who begins the film being angrily accused by a suicidal ex-lover of using their affair in his latest book, and ends it arrested for kidnapping and gun and drug possession.
More common are monsters and obnoxious egotists, such as Nicholson's misanthropic author with OCD in As Good As It Gets, Jeff Daniels's nasty, student-shagging novelist in The Squid and the Whale, and Roger Allam's arrogant, wife-exploiting crime writer and pursuer of younger bedmates in Tamara Drewe. And some, such as Sharon Stone's icepick-wielding serial killer in Basic Instinct or Laurence Olivier's mystery writer in Sleuth, are dangerous criminals.
In recent biopics, real writers are portrayed in the grip of mental illness, old age or/and waning powers, from Iris to The Hours to The Last Station. Such sympathetic treatment is rarely extended to invented ones, who are typically objects of ridicule or loathing in comedies of different degrees of blackness. Is this one faction of the writing community (screenwriters) abusing another (novelists), perhaps irritated by their greater prestige? Hard to tell. But it's significant that these movies often close with a suggestion of regret for their punitive plotting, giving the protagonists happy or happy-ish endings. Nicholson's misanthrope and Paul Giammati's thirsty would-be writer in Sideways are awarded girlfriends, and Young Adult finishes ambiguously but with a hint that a chastened Mavis is at last near to adulthood.


Anonymous said...

Shouldn't this be credited to its author, John Dugdale writing in the Guardian?

Bookman Beattie said...

Oops, yes of course. Just an accidental omission on my part. My apologies to John Dugdale. Now corrected.

Bella said...

I love Charlize Theron