Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Favorites: Writers in the Movies – by Louise Tripp

The only thing I love as much as I love books is movies. I wish I had nothing but time to fit more of each into my crazy schedule. When considering what I might write about for this edition of Friday Favorites, I found myself stubbornly unable to get my mind off the movies. I thought: Why not post about movies centering around writers? The following list is my (much-boiled-down) offering of five wonderful movies that prove the pen is mightier than the sword.

  1. Wonder Boys – My favorite of the five, Wonder Boys is based on the Michael Chabon novel of the same name and takes place during an annual literary convention at a cushy university. The story centers around Professor Grady Tripp, a creative writing teacher and one-time lauded author who is experiencing the opposite of writer's block: he can't seem to finish his novel because he can't stop writing. That's the least of his problems, of course: his wife just left him, his boss's wife is pregnant with his child, one of his students keeps throwing herself at him and another of his students may or may not be suicidal. There are so many brilliant moments in this movie, I want to live inside of it.

  2. The Squid & The Whale – The Squid & The Whale is about the collapse of a marriage and its affect on the children. Joan takes up with a tennis instructor and her husband, Bernard begins a flirtation with one of his students (Anna Paquin). Both parents happen to be writers and oddly, the children, Walt and Frank, act out in ways involving literature and books. Walt, a sexually-frustrated teenager, writes psuedo-intellectual reports about books he's never read and gets caught plagiarizing a song by Pink Floyd. Frank, their younger child, jerks off in the library and smears his ejaculation on the books. It's all pretty disturbing, but the performances are inspired and the film does a great job of portraying the literary family (Bernard's snobbery, scoffing at “philistines” rang especially true). And its demise.
  1. Deconstructing Harry - In this Woody Allen directed dark comedy, Allen himself plays the role of Harry, a novelist about to be honored for literary achievement while his personal life turns to chaos. He has a hardcore case of writer's block. Half the people he knows are angry at him for ways he portrayed them in his novels (one of his ex-lovers, played by Judy Davis, even threatens to kill him and fires shots to show she's not kidding). His latest young girlfriend has run off with his best friend, planning nuptials. And in order for his son to attend the ceremony where Harry is to be honored, he will have to kidnap the boy. The film uses Harry's stories, one of a journey into hell and another about a man whose life is so out-of-focus that he becomes a blur, literally, to give a peak into the psyche of a struggling writer.

  2. Quills – Even today, it's hard to imagine a writer more...shall we say, naughty, than Marquis de Sade. This movie, a fictionalized account of his last years incarcerated in an asylum, shows us the importance of an independent press: de Sade's erotic novels are being sold with the help of an asylum laundress, who smuggled his manuscripts out and into the hands of a publisher. While probably not the most truthful look at the notoriously sadistic scribe, Quills is nonetheless an achievement for its look at the banning of books and for outstanding performances by Geoffrey Rush (as Marquis de Sade) and Kate Winslet (as the laundress, Madeline).
  1. Henry Fool – A garbage man named Simon Grim, apparently the target of neighborhood hoodlums and bullies, lives aimlessly with his pill-popping mother and whiny, chain-smoking sister. He meets a drifter named Henry Fool, who gives him a black-and-white-covered composition book and tells him “if you ever feel like you have something to say and you can't get it out, stop and write it down.” What Simon ends up writing is a poem; it's even in effortless iambic pentameter. Meanwhile, Henry's roguish wit is found to be a facade covering up a lack of talent and a load of lies: he's not “in” with a publisher, as he has said, and he is actually a convicted sex offender. While that's a sour look at heroes, what makes the movie wise is that Simon Grim becomes world-renowned as a poet anyway – despite the person inspiring him to do so being a dishonest character.

    Louise Tripp grew up in North Carolina. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is revising her first YA novel and working in a public library. You can read her regular blog at


  1. Excellent- I have a couple of movies to look forward to! Just out of curiosity, where would The World According to Garp fall in your top 25 (50, 100)?

    Have you seen Fay Grimm (the sequel to Henry Fool)? Hartley takes almost everything we believed about Henry and turns it sideways. Fay Grimm is far from my favorite Hartley movie, but I think the direction he went is interesting.

  2. I've checked Fay Grim out several times from the library, but have yet to actually watch it before I had to return it. Meh. I will some day get around to it (as well as around to watching other Hartley movies).

    I've only seen The World According to Garp once, so it would probably fall somewhere in the teens (if we are counting it among the top 25) for that reason alone. I recall liking it, but not being in love with it. Of movies based on John Irving books, I am much more partial to The Door In The Floor (based on *part* of A Widow For One Year).

    Sorry for the delayed response. I tend to forget to check if I have comments here (they don't come to my email for some reason), assuming that anyone who reads this will comment on Facebook instead.