Pity the novelist who wanders into Hollywood with the dream of seeing their work brought to the big screen. Prevailing wisdom holds that literary adaptations lose the richness and complexity of the page, and while there are plenty of exceptions, that bad reputation is largely earned. High-profile botch jobs in recent memory include the digital-fantasy sheen of Peter Jackson’s terrible take on The Lovely Bones and an entirely bloodless staging of the emotionally devastating The Time Traveler’s Wife. Legendary book-to-screen flops from the past include The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, and pretty much every Vonnegut movie ever attempted.
So it’s understandable that authors might be reluctant to hand over their precious stories, labored over for months or years, to a team of strangers. Occasionally, authors will take matters into their own hands and step behind the camera themselves. But the results in those cases are often even more disastrous. Every writer thinking they’d be better off directing their own book should sit down and watch Maximum Overdrive, Stephen King’s embarrassing 1986 directorial debut—and, to date, his only attempt at feature filmmaking . Plenty of others have tried and failed to varying degrees, including Norman Mailer, Ethan Hawke, and Michael Crichton. (To be fair to Crichton, he kept at it and improved, but his Ben Gazzara/Martin Sheen-starring TV-movie debut Pursuit is hardly notable enough to seek out.)
So there was reason to be nervous when news broke that Stephen Chbosky would be heading up the filming of his own hugely popular young adult novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Miraculously, though, he’s managed to turn his powerful written words into a powerful movie, which opens in limited release today. How’d he do it? By respecting his book’s storytelling conceit without being confined by it, by embracing film’s unique ability to evoke emotions, and by enlisting a pitch-perfect crew of actors. It’s a recipe that other authors-turned-directors-of-their-own-work would be wise to follow.
Continue reading the rest of my piece over at The Atlantic.
Tags | review | essay | authors | novelists | adaptations | Stephen Chbosky | coming of age | bildungsroman | 90s nostalgia | 1 note