|Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in Wild.|
A number of the potential titles for the Summer ‘Movie Reads’ post already appeared in the “Most Anticipated Films of 2014” list, so readers looking for recommendations/quick thoughts on Inherent Vice and such may head that way. There are several titles from that same post, though, that made my reading list over the past few months, so they’re here under a somewhat different angle. I could even add stragglers from last year’s feature, namely Serena (what on Earth is going on with that film?) and The Believers (when will we get this?!). There should be even more options on this list, but my summer reading was derailed by the brutally overlong and inexcusably slow Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch. Blech! Let’s hope they never adapt that for the screen!
If you’re looking to hit the beach, commandeer a coffee shop patio, or prepare for festival/Oscar season with a cat on your lap, here are ten titles worth reading:
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The energetic flashbacks seem perfectly catered to the kaleidoscopic style of director Jean-Marc Vallée (Café de flore, Dallas Buyers Club), as does a character-driven tale of a rugged outlaw going rogue. This inspiring and empowering book might be the most promising film on the horizon. Early word on Wild is strong, especially regarding Witherspoon’s performance. Strayed herself praises Witherspoon for giving “the performance of her life,” which is pretty impressive coming from the subject of the performance itself. Strayed gives her perspective on the adaptation process in an interview with Q’s Jian Ghomeshi, and her take is a refreshing extension of the beautifully personable prose of Wild. As Strayed talks of sharing the story with others and of seeing how Wild touches others and brings about emotional transformation, it sounds as if Vallée, Witherspoon, and company really bring Wild to life.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The film presents a physically and emotionally epic challenge for Jack O’Connell in the role of Zamperini, as well as for the filmmakers and for the audience as they follow Zamperini’s journey. Adapting a story with as large a scope as Unbroken looks to be no easy task, for Louis’s Olympic legacy invariably comes into play in the latter act, and the accounts of his survival at sea and at the camp are so thrilling and so moving that one almost wishes Unbroken could be a mini-series and include every word of Hillenbrand’s book. However Jolie and an impressive quartet of screenwriters—Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, re-writing drafts by William Nicholson and Richard LaGravenese—adapt Zamperini’s story, though, Unbroken almost seems tailor-made to touch audiences if its anywhere as powerful on screen as it is in print. (Opens December 25th.)
Cockroach by Rawi Hage
If it's a daunting task to condense Unbroken into a feature, then it's doubly intriguing to see how The Underground adapts Cockroach into a fifteen minute short. (But the film has ample wiggle room since since it's 'inspired' by the book.) Details about the adaptation are scant, as tends to be the case with shorts, but The Underground reportedly mixes live action and animation to further the fantastical realism of Hage’s text. The film screened at the Canada Pavilion in the Cannes Market, so expect the film to get its public debut on the festival circuit this fall. (Fingers crossed.)
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
If you told me I’d be looking forward to the latest film from the director of The Internship, I’d have told you that you are completely nuts. After seeing the trailer for the upcoming dramedy This is Where I Leave You, though, I moseyed on over to the local bookstore and grabbed a copy of the book by Jonathan Tropper. I loved it!
This is Where I Leave You is the story of the dysfunctional Foxman family seen through the eyes of middle son Judd as he returns home to fulfill his late father’s request that the family gather and sit Shiva together for seven days. It’s warm, funny, and often surprisingly moving as Judd reflects upon the mess of his life—divorced, unemployed, etc.—as he revisits old cornerstones of his youth. Tackling issues of masculinity seems to have gone out of fashion lately, but the book (and, hopefully, the film) is especially smart with how it confronts Judd’s old-fangled outlook on women, sex, and his own self-worth. As the Foxmans reunite in mourning and dig up old ghosts of the past in wacky ways, This is Where I Leave You reads like cross between August: Osage County and Silver Linings Playbook. It could be just as strong an ensemble piece with a cast that includes Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, and Tina Fey in an especially funny role. This is Where I Leave You opens September 19th from Warner Bros. so expect the star-studded film to be a big player on the first weekend of TIFF.
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
Adapting such a rich text could therefore be quite daring. Suite Française lends itself to a film in the vein of The Hours or, more aptly in terms of adaptation, The French Lieutenant’s Woman where the process of creating a work of art becomes a meta-thread of the narrative. Imagine a parallel storyline in which the fate of the author becomes linked to those of her characters!
A quick glance at the film, however, suggests a more straightforward period piece, which is fine given the director (The Duchess’s Saul Dibb) and ensemble. Suite Française, the movie, sounds to favour the latter half of the book, though, given the heavy star power of Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas as the Angellier family, versus a range of lesser-known actors as the Péricands and Michauds who populate the first half, “Storm in June.” Suite Française sounds promising either way. Read the book soon, since this page-to-screen affair is also a high-profile international co-production for Canada and seems like an inevitable contender for a plum premiere slot at TIFF.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl also seems destined to percolate ample discussions since Flynn herself has scripted a new ending for the film. Gone Girl flies off the rails in its final act in one of those love it or hate it (but mostly hate) deeds that strains credibility. It’s always exciting when improvement seems inevitable. Under the sturdy hand of director David Fincher, who did a bang-up job on upgrading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the adaptation of Gone Girl looks like a full-throttle realization of this thrilling book, especialy with the casting of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy. The compelling and incredibly cocky (enjoyably so) new trailer suggests that Fincher and 20th Century Fox know they have a big hit on their hands.
Trash by Andy Mulligan
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
|Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender in Macbeth|
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Hail to the Streep! Meryl plays The Chief Elder in the dystopian Community of The Giver and she looks to have a sizably beefed up role from the book. Fans of Lois Lowry’s 1994 novel, which won the Newberry Medal winner for children’s literature, need not cry foul, though, for the beautiful sparseness of the book lends itself especially well to an adaptation since there is ample room to cover all the content of the book and embellish it with a new reading. The Chief Elder has only an extended speech in the book, but early footage for The Giver suggests that she becomes a foil for the young Receiver, Jonas (Maleficent’s Brenton Thwaites), as he learns to see beyond the Community’s black-and-white world vision thanks to the lessons passed on to him from The Giver (Jeff Bridges).
The Giver, at a quick 170 pages, is something that one can read in an afternoon at the beach. It’s a refreshingly powerful read, not to mention an essential one since the book is a precursor to a wave of science fiction aimed at young readers. It’s a necessary reminder that dystopian writing need not be synonymous with bad writing, for none of the books that have followed in The Giver’s footsteps has surpassed it. The book, sparse in its description and prose, is essentially filmable as written since it manly consists of conversations between Jonas and The Giver, so the original material indicated in the trailer is undeniably intriguing. The adaptation looks more thrilling than Lowry’s strong book, but every bit as profound. The film even has Lowry’s stamp of approval, as noted by an updated poster blurb, and her endorsement is strangely—and appropriately—vague. (The Giver opens in theatres August 15 from eOne Films.)
The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout
The Homesman is a surreal talking-point for both genre and gender. The direction of the book is particularly striking in that Swarthout charts the pioneer trail from east to west as opposed to the westward narrative of manifest destiny. There’s nothing in the barren American Dream of westward expansion except the kind of misery that’s liable to drive someone nuts. Swarthout makes the hardship of the pioneer life and ideology especially provocative with some strange tonal shifts and a twist that blindsides the reader with a punch.
Swarthout’s novel is equally notable for the roles it fashions for women outside of the usual frame of the western narrative. Mary Bee Cuddy is an odd duck, a rugged outsider with more grit than the piggish Briggs has, and the backstories that drive the four women to madness detail the hardship of surviving in isolation without resources or support. Cannes reviews praise Swank’s performance as the plucky Mary Bee, who could be a dark horse contender for Best Supporting Actress if upstart distributor Saban Films and Roadside Attractions handle the campaign smartly, while Jones himself has ample praise as both actor and director. IMDb dates cite a North American premiere at TIFF this fall, although the listed date doesn’t even fall during the festival, but one can assume The Homesman aims to travel.