Monday, July 11, 2011
Now, naturally, there seems to be a ton of movies about screenwriting and playwriting, and a ton of novels about writing fiction. But there is a definite dearth of movies about writing fiction. There is your The Hours (a pseudo-biopic of Virginia Woolf), there is your Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (which, I haven't seen, and so the actual connection, if there is one, to Virginia Woolf is unclear to me), and there is your The Door In The Floor, a fantastic film based on the first section of John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year. If you haven't seen this last one, starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger, throw it up on your Netflix queue post-haste.
But those aren't the three movies I want to talk about. The three movies I want to point out all have one thing in common: They're actually about the fiction-writing process. That's not an easy thing to pull off on film — fiction writing being the loneliest, most solitary of arts. However, all three of these films show both writers' internal relationships with their craft, and also how the process of writing fiction emanates outward from the writer to affect those around, whether family or fans. Let's take a look.
3. Finding Forrester — One of the great Sean Connery's last film's, this Gus Van Sant (of Milk and Good Will Hunting fame) vehicle tells the story reclusive writer William Forrester and his at-first hesitant, and then willing, collaboration with an inner city high school kid, who between basketball games, also happens to love writing fiction. It's a good look at the dangers of stereotype, as well as a great portrait of a student-teacher relationship. It's not real deep, if I remember correctly, but it is entertaining — though it's more of a mass-market, rather than indie-film type of entertainment.
2. Starting Out In The Evening — This film about a perky graduate student (Lauren Ambrose) writing her master's thesis about an aging writer (Frank Langella) successfully takes a sort of bizarre young-woman's-idol-worship-of-older-man love story beyond the cliché. It also touches on a lot of literary themes: the sources of inspiration, "the madness of art," and even the uphill battle for literary novels in today's publishing environment. The superfluous, dull side story of Langella's character's daughter (Lili Taylor) and her relationship troubles put a dent in the film's overall merit, but on the whole, it's very, very good.
1. Wonder Boys — This is one of my favorite movies of all time. The short tagline that comes up on the channel guide whenever this movie's on best sums it up: "A professor and his student collide with life." The cast (Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand, Ripp Torn, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downery Jr., Katie Holmes) is fantastic. It's an infinitely quotable film ("Oh, Professor Trip, you're bleeding." "No shit, James.") And it's a film that just makes you happy about being into books. And if you don't laugh out loud with James as Ripp Torn proclaims "I....am a writer," well, you better check your own pulse.
As always, let's discuss. What did you think of any of the three films above — specifically, in how they treat the fiction-writing process? Any other fiction-writing films you'd recommend?
(Yes, I realize two of these three — Wonder Boys [Michael Chabon], Starting Out In The Evening [Brian Morton]— are actually based on novels. But that doesn't make it any less of a feat to show how fiction writers write, how what fiction writers write affects others, and how fiction writers interface with the world.)
Posted by Greg Zimmerman at 11:24 AM