Category Archives: Book vs Movie

Different Perspectives on THE HELP

I read a great post tonight on Amy Reads about The Help (the book and the movie, which I compared in this post). Amy’s post is about the importance of historical accuracy and the need to get multiple perspectives in order to have a true sense of what happened during a particular era. She links to a few other posts that talk about why The Help is misleading and one-sided, and she is participating in a reading challenge based on a reading list suggested by the Association of Black Women Historians.

If you’ve read The Help, seen the movie, or done both or neither and are just curious about the issues they raise, I highly recommend Amy’s post.

Book vs. Movie: “The Help”

Thehelp At BlogHer, I was given the opportunity to see a preview of the upcoming movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I read The Help in spring 2010, about a year after it seemed that most people had read it, and I liked it. (Here’s my review of The Help.) For the uninitiated, The Help is about the relationship between black domestics and white employers in the South in the 60s, told through the perspective of black maids and a young white woman who decides to help them tell their story.

I found the subject matter extremely compelling, and was glad that Stockett had taken it on. My main complaints about The Help were, first, that I felt that Stockett had added some gimmicks and plot twists to the book that were totally unnecessary and detracted from the power of the story itself, which needed no such embellishments; and second, that it read like a screenplay, rather than a piece of historic fiction, and that Stockett "had the inevitable movie adaptation in mind while she was writing".

So now, it is a screenplay. The Help, which just opened nationwide, is a faithful screen adaption of Stockett’s book. But the movie was better than the book. Stockett wrote the black women’s sections in their voices, mimicking their diction, which I found distracting. In the movie, that distraction is gone. The performances were beautiful – from Aibileen’s dignified veneer masking her simmering anger to Skeeter’s awkward earnestness, the movie was pitch perfect. Great casting too – Bryce Dallas Howard’s despicable Hilly, Octavia Spencer as Minny, Viola Davis’s Aibileen and Emma Stone (looking about as gawky as possible for such a lithe beauty) as Skeeter – these were exactly the people I had in mind when I read the book.

The movie does a beautiful job of capturing the deep injustices of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, with lush Southern estates contrasted with the working class houses to which the domestics wearily trudge each evening after a day spent wearing maid’s uniforms and panty hose in those same estates. The details of the movie were perfect, from the white women’s bridge games and Junior League benefits, with their floral pastel dresses and starchily coiffed hair, to the black churches and city buses.  There are a few violent scenes in the book, but they are not shown onscreen, which this movie wimp appreciated.

Overall, I found the movie of The Help to be an improvement over the book, which was admittedly already a good one. If you haven’t read The Help, either because you were put off by the hype or just haven’t gotten to it, I’d highly recommend the movie, which on its own is excellent. If you have read The Help, I suspect you’ll love the movie, either because you’ll find it a faithful interpretation of one of your favorite reads, or, like me, you’ll find it to be even better than the book.

Advantage: movie.

Lionel Shriver on the Movie Version of WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

When it comes to books being made into movies, I always have an opinion. And the more I like the book, the stronger the opinion. Sometimes I worry that I liked a book so much that the movie will never compare… such as with The Namesake (loved the book, liked the movie almost as much), or with The Time Traveler’s Wife (loved the book, didn’t think the movie measured up, though it was a noble effort).

Sometimes I am reluctant to see the movie, either because the book was difficult to read (The Kite Runnertoo violent/disturbing) or because I just didn’t like the book much at all (Water for Elephants).

I’ve come across a movie adaptation that I am very scared to see for two reasons – 1) I loved the book and can’t imagine a movie doing it justice; and 2) it’s the most disturbing book I have ever read and I don’t know if I can sit through it, knowing what I know is going to happen. That book, of course, is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (reviewed here).

Lionel Shriver was recently interviewed by The Guardian about her own feelings about the movie adaptation of her bestseller. It’s a fascinating read – check it out here. I really enjoyed this article. (H/T to TLB for passing it along!)

Will you see “We Need to Talk About Kevin”?

Book vs. Movie: The Oscars!!

We are 9 days away from my favorite night of the year: Oscar Sunday! I love the Oscars – the hype, the drama, the dresses. While I see fewer movies than I used to, I do try to get to as many of the nominees as I can. My favorite categories are always the screenplay categories, because (surprise, surprise) I treasure good writing in a movie. I am especially interested in screenplays that are adapted from books, as I enjoy scrutinizing how the adaptation differs from the original and why the changes were made.

Apparently, I am not alone – I have written a number of posts comparing books to the movies they were adapted for, and those posts seem to generate the most traffic from search engines.

Here are some of my book vs movie posts:

Atonement

The Time Traveler’s Wife

Revolutionary Road

The Reader

The Namesake

My favorite local bookstore, Politics & Prose, has a page on its website dedicated to books that were made into Oscar movies. Scroll to the bottom to see this year’s crop of book-to-movies. I haven’t read any of the books this year, and sadly have seen very few of the ten movies nominated in the two categories. However, here are my predictions: Best Original Screenplay – The Hurt Locker, because I think people want to recognize this movie; and Best Adapted Screenplay – Up In The Air.

Book vs Movie: THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE

Tttw Last night, I saw the movie version of The Time Traveler’s Wife (reviewed on this blog here). I was a bit apprehensive about the movie, both because I feared that the movie wouldn’t do the book justice, and because I was dreading watching some of the more difficult scenes from the book. But I knew I had to steel myself and see it. Here is my take on book vs. movie, Time Traveler-style.

Warning: there are spoilers ahead, both of the book and the movie. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet, proceed with caution!

The movie The Time Traveler’s Wife has gotten mixed to negative reviews, but I have to say that I enjoyed it. I wonder what I would have thought had I not read the book (and would love to hear from anyone who has seen it but not read it), but I thought the movie was as faithful to the book as it could have been in two hours. There is a lot that the movie left out, but it covered the main plot points of the book – Henry’s mother’s death, his relationship with Clare, their friendship with Gomez, and the birth of their daughter.

The first part of the movie felt a little rushed – the early days when Clare is young and Henry is older, and their “courtship” during her teen years, are treated very quickly – and I felt that it left out some of the interesting elements of their early relationship, such as when they sleep together for the first time when she’s 18, and some of the getting-to-know-each-other scenes in Clare’s early 20s.

But the movie does a nice job of demonstrating the inevitability of their relationship, Clare’s frustration about not having been able to choose the direction of her life, and the depth of their love. I also liked that the movie was sort of dark and shadow-y in the way that the book was. Clare and Henry don’t live in bright, whitewashed settings in a sun-kissed golden Hollywood world – their lives were at times gritty and cold and sad and sort of messy. And the movie captured that well.

Casting-wise, Rachel McAdams was perfect. Just perfect. (How can she look so beautiful no matter what she is doing or wearing?). I didn’t love Eric Bana. I imagined Henry as a little more slight – Bana is tall and toned. He also seemed kind of mechanical. I know that Henry was a closed-off, walled person when Clare met him, but Bana’s portrayal of him never really let those walls come down (except when Alba was around, when he adopted that classic beatific parental gaze that Hollywood likes to use to convey that a character really, really loves his or her child).

Some things that the movie left out: Henry’s troubles at work due to his disappearing, the Ingrid storyline, the sexual episodes with Gomez and Clare, most of Clare’s relationship with her family, and Henry’s losing his feet (he does end up in a wheelchair but it’s not as bad as in the book). Henry’s impregnating Clare takes place in a car, instead of in bed with an older Henry sleeping next to them (which I found disappointing, because that was a memorable part of the book), and the final scene, when Clare is 80. My friend with whom I saw the movie thought that the movie ended on a more ambiguous, hopeful note, perhaps to satisfy a mass audience.

A few other quibbles… Bana doesn’t look different enough from scene to scene to cue the viewer about how old he is. Other than some grey hair at his wedding, he doesn’t really look that much older as the ceremony groom than he does as the first dance groom. And at the end of the movie, we’re supposed to think that he is wasting away, getting sicker and thinner, but he really doesn’t. The movie doesn’t convey the inevitability of Henry’s decline the way the book did.

Ok, so what did I like? For me, I just loved seeing this book play out on screen. Going through the same calculations and mystery-solving in the theater as I did while reading the book. And most of all, just giving in to the (admittedly sappy at times) love story between these two people who were bound to each other at the most basic and fundamental level.

I recommend seeing the movie, especially if you have read the book. I view it as sort of a companion piece for the book – it certainly doesn’t come close to replicating the experience of reading it, and the alternating first person narration, which was so effective in the book, is lost on the screen. But the movie doesn’t offend the book in any way, and I am very glad that I saw it.

Book vs. Movie: THE READER

Kate_winslet_the_reader_movie_image__1_ One of the movies getting a lot of attention this Oscar season is "The Reader", which is about the relationship between a German teenager who becomes physically and emotionally involved with an older woman in the 60s. The woman turns out to have been a Nazi guard, and is tried in a German court after the Holocaust. The book spans the whole relationship and tell the story from the point of view of Michael Berg, the boy – later the man – whose life was so affected by Hanna Schmitz.

"The Reader" is based on a book of the same name by Bernhard Schlink. I must have bought the book years ago, as it has been sitting on my shelf for a long time with a price tag from The Strand, but I had never read it. I saw the movie a few weeks ago, and decided upon returning home to pick up the book and read it too.

The story is quite compelling. Hanna and Michael develop an admittedly inappropriate sexual relationship after a chance meeting in a street. The relationship, however, goes deeper than that. Hanna - a rather cold, private woman –  asks Michael to read books to her during their afternoon trysts, and it is then that she reveals vulnerability and her quixotic emotions. Michael, a sensitive and inexperienced teenager, quickly falls in love with Hanna and learns to tolerate her mood swings and bad temper.

After a few months together, Hanna disappears without a word. Years later, Michael (then a law student) discovers that she is one of several Nazi guards on trial in a nearby town. He attends every day of the trial as part of a seminar he's taking in law school. The second half of the book and movie explore Hanna's guilt, Michael's reaction to learning about who she really was, and the complex path their relationship takes from there.

I'll start with the movie. I liked it a lot – probably the most of any Oscar movie this season (along with "Vicky Cristina Barcelona".The acting is very good. Kate Winslet does an admirable job of portraying a difficult and often extremely unlikeable woman. Both the younger and the older Michael Bergs (the latter played by Ralph Fiennes) are equally convincing. The movie is sad and serious, and ultimately quite thought-provoking.

ReaderThe book is equally good, but for different reasons. I appreciated the visual aspect of the movie – getting to see the characters, the courtroom, even the (empty) concentration camp scenes. The book, meanwhile, really fleshed out the moral quandaries of the story in a way the movie simply couldn't. I got a much better sense from the book of how much Michael really loved Hanna his whole life. The book also explored the philosophical questions of guilt and responsibility – the main themes of the story – much more successfully than the movie did. I don't fault the acting (never will a bad word about Ralph Fiennes be written on this blog!), or even the screenplay, for that – there are just certain things a book can communicate better than a movie.

For me, the book and the movie complemented each other perfectly. Each of the experiences of reading and watching were made richer by the other. I loved having the visual hooks of the movie in my mind as I was reading, and reading the book really made the movie even more thought-provoking.

I recommend them both. I usually prefer to read a book before seeing it as a movie, but the reverse worked just fine for me here.

I'd love to hear from others on this – did you have a preference for the book or the movie?

Book vs. Movie: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

I saw "Revolutionary Road" – movie version – tonight. Here's my take on book vs. movie.

RR First, I wonder if I was crippled by having JUST read the book. I felt as if I were watching a play, one whose script I knew by heart. This made the movie seem more like a performance than a believable world that pulled me in. The movie is pretty faithful to the book. There are some plot points in the book that don't make it into the movie, and a few details are changed in the movie. Some of these changes make sense - of course the book had to be streamlined to turn it into a two-hour movie. Some of the changes make less sense, but I don't want to get into them here for fear of spoiling the movie for those who haven't seen it.

Like the book, the movie is not uplifting. And like the book, some of the fights between April and Frank Wheeler are not convincing or well-explored. Why is she so angry at him at the end? Does she honestly believe that she doesn't love him? Have all of her prior kindnesses toward him been purely calculated to get her where she wants to go? The movie is even more spare than the book, and offers less explanation for why April is who she is.

I will say this for the movie – visually, I got a better sense of why April and Frank's world was so inflexible and suffocating than I did reading the novel. I know I wrote in my review that I didn't think Revolutionary Road the novel was necessarily successful as a statement about the 50s. The movie, however, changed my mind a bit. April's unhappiness – her restlessness – made a lot more sense after seeing the movie and understanding how she lived.

All in all, I didn't love either the movie or the book. But I definitely found reading the book to be more satisfying and ultimately more enjoyable than watching the movie. So… Advantage: Book.