Entertainment Weekly recently published a list of the 23 most disappointing movie adaptations, which contained some obvious choices, some I’d already blocked out, and some I just couldn’t agree with.
In the "Duh!" category, I’d have to agree with their assessment of the attempts to bring Dr. Seuss’ magic to the big screen, in both Dr.Suess’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) and The Cat in the Hat (2003), failed horribly. Both lacked the zing of the children’s novels on which they were based, and while Jim Carey was supposed to look scary as the Grinch, I think Mike Meyers, as The Cat, was not.
In the "So Painful That I Already Blocked It Out" Category for me were EW‘s picks of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) and Troy (2004).
I’m usually pretty indifferent to Renée Zellweger‘s performances (though I did love her in the funny but bloody 1994 thriller Love and a .45), but The Edge of Reason was just horrible. In it, Zellweger’s Jones was a whiny, neurotic, boy-crazy mess who didn’t enjoy her surprise kiss from Jacinda Barrett.
Did you block it out too? Here’s a line from Bridget Jones herself to remind you why you forgot in the first place: "I truly believe that happiness is possible — even when you’re thirty-three and have a bottom the size of two bowling balls."
And Troy? Well, maybe a movie about a bunch of guys running around in little armor mini-skirts and chopping one anther to pieces was never going to be my cup of tea.
In the "Really?" category, I have to voice my disagreement with EW‘s pick of Vanity Fair (2004). I thought Mira Nair‘s adaptation of Thackeray’s novel was gorgeous, compelling and well-cast. I like it when actress Reese Witherspoon plays characters that are smart and scrappy (Freeway, Walk the Line, Election), and her Becky Sharp fits the bill.
And even (or maybe especially), when he plays a bad boy, I love Jonathon Rhys Meyers. Whether he’s Elvis, Henry VIII or Vanity Fair‘s George Osborne, I find him captivating.
Before you start assembling your lesbian mob, let me say that I thought all of the films had merits. It’s just that I loved the books so much, that I was, well, disappointed that the movies didn’t live up to them.
The Hours was a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that blew my mind, one that I devoured in the course of an afternoon, enraptured by author Michael Cunningham’s poetic writing. When I heard that Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Allison Janney, Julianne Moore and Toni Collette had been cast in the film version, my thoughts shifted from "I hope they don’t screw this up!" to "This is going to be awesome!"
But the final product was, for me, a letdown. While it garnered eight Oscar nominations and a Best Actress win for Kidman and her prosthetic nose, I found it sluggish and a lot less gay than the book. Streep and Janney made a cute, if passionless, couple and the lesbians-across-the-generations storyline seemed incidental to all the emoting. By the end of the movie, I was simply bored.
I had the same gripe with the adaptation of Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, a modern-day retelling of King Lear, but set on a farm in Iowa. The story of three sisters whose lives and relationships with one another are ripped apart by their memories (or lackthereof) of their father’s violation when they were children was a gripping read, full of remorse, jealousy and revenge.
With a cast filled with the likes of Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the movie should have reached operatic proportions. But it seemed like the script refused to embrace the ugly, complex realities of the sisters’ lives, and was nowhere near as unflinching as Smiley’s novel.
It’s too bad, because Lange, Pfeiffer and Leigh are all actors who will go to the depths for a role (particularly as evidenced by Jessica Lange in Frances and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia).
A Thousand Acres wasn’t a bad movie, just a squandered opportunity to go for the gusto and tell a type of story that is rarely well-told.
Finally, one of my all-time biggest cinematic bummers was Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). Fannie Flagg‘s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was a hilarious read, full of heart and genuine southern weirdness (trust me, I know). And the lesbian subtext between the characters Idgie and Ruth was way more "text" than "sub."
So imagine my lesbian outrage when, in the film version, Ruth’s (played by Mary Louise Parker) homoerotic (at best) relationship with Idgie (played by Mary Stuart Masterson) started as just a balm for her heartbreak over the death of her beau, Idgie’s brother Buddy. In the book, Buddy was dead before Ruth ever came to town.
But for me, the worst part was the "twist" at the end of the film, in which we’re led to believe that "Ninny" Threadgood (played by Jessica Tandy) was actually the elderly version of tomboy Idgie, all grown up and a married mom. In the book, the elderly Idgie was still a single "tomboy" (i.e. lesbian), charming bees and selling honey on the side of a country road in Georgia.
In Flagg’s novel, Idgie lived long and prospered, but in the film, the real Idgie was long gone before "Ninny" ever took her last breath.
What are your biggest movie adaptation letdowns?