The Perks of Being a Wallflower, written by Stephen Chbosky, successfully bridged the young adult to adult literature gap in a way that few have. The film version of the book is now being slated for release in September, well over a decade after the fact. The film is set to star Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman and Emma Watson, and is being produced by the team behind Juno. It is being adapted and directed by Chbosky.
The novel itself was an interesting one, both as on its own, and as part of bigger whole. During a time where YA wasn’t nearly the buzzword it is now, Perks reached a far wider audience than most of its ilk and was part of what seemed like a wave of such successes that reached its crest in the late nineties with authors like Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh. As one of the earliest and most successful titles put out by Simon And Schuster imprint MTV Books (more recently known for such titles as Gym Tanning, Laundry), first time author Stephen Chbosky’s novel seemed well-poised as a new kind of coming of age book for Generation Y. Chbosky was soon after tapped to edit another MTV Books release, Pieces, a collection of short stories chosen from MTV’s Write Stuff short story competition. However, Chbosky’s gig editing MTV’s Pieces collection surprisingly marked the end of his career as a writer or editor of prose. Chbosky had one last literary foray after Pieces with an ill-fated film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh before jumping head-first into the Hollywood script writing world with his adaptation of Rent, followed by a stint writing for the TV series Jericho.
As a supplement to my earlier post on Five Novels that Must Never Be Adapted For Film, I’ve compiled a new list: Five Novels That Should Have Been Adapted for Film, with a focus on this particular time period. With so many book-to-film adaptations that are seemingly so ill advised, it’s an absolute wonder that most of these novels, over a decade after publication are left un-adapted.
1. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Is it fair to call Dunn the Jeff Mangum of the book world? Published in 1989, Geek Love didn’t really seem to make the rounds until a few years after its release (not unlike In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.) Like Mangum’s masterpiece, Geek Love (a finalist for the National Book Award) is a highly-revered work that came just before the artist’s disappearance from the public stage. Also like Mangum, Dunn had two releases that preceded her masterwork: Attic in 1970 and Truck in 1971. Finally, Dunn’s return to the literary world has been slow, anticipated and the subject of much scuttlebutt. Her fourth novel, The Cut Man, is a boxing tale (Dunn is a noted boxing writer) that was slated for publication in September 2008 and then delayed. In the summer of 2010, The Paris Review featured an excerpt from the novel but little has been heard of it since.
If Geek Love were to become a film, could In The Aeroplane Over the See not serve as the perfect soundtrack? Could Dunn’s tales of self-mutilating carnival folk not be perfectly complimented by Mangum’s wavering vocals on songs like “Two Headed Boy”?
Apparently interest in a Geek Love movie has come from folks like Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, but the rights are currently and firmly held by Warner Bros, and nothing is in the works. A well-received stage adaptation of the novel gained some critical acclaim in Atlanta, Georgia in 2004 and hit the NYC Fringe Festival later that year. On the possibility of a film version of Geek Love, Dunn says: “Some writers get snooty about what happens when their books are adapted to film, but I don’t feel that way. Film is a different art form with its own demands and its own riches. A screenwriter once told me that adapting a script from a novel is hard, ‘Like trying to cut a child’s suit out of a man’s overcoat.’ That makes sense to me. Plus, the process of reading is a home movie at its best. Each reader projects their own version of the experience inside their skull as they go along. It’s probably true that no two people read exactly the same book. A film adaptation is, I hope, the director’s version. A new creation.” (From wordsandfilm.com)
2. Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks
While Rule of the Bone differs from the other selections on this list in that it’s something of a departure for the author content and style-wise, Rule of the Bone is certainly as notable a coming of age book of the 90’s as any. For many of Generation Y, Chappy “Bone” Dorset’s pot-tinged travels with biker gangs throughout the Adirondacks, and eventually Jamaica, served as an entré into the world of contemporary fiction. In his ability to mimic the nuances and dialect of an angsty 90s punker, Banks developed a truly dead-on young protagonist, the likes of which haven’t been seen since, perhaps, Holden Caulfield.
According to Indiewire, Rule of the Bone movie is currently in the works under the helm of Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik. Granik told Indiewire of her plans to cast an unknown for the lead role of Chappy Bone and to surround him with more recognizable faces. Who might we imagine in those surrounding roles? Perhaps John Goodman as Bone’s elusive father, Doc? Maybe Harold Perrineau as Bone’s Rastafarian confidant or Marisa Tomei as Doc’s sexually liberated lover, Evening Star? As long as it avoids the plunge into development hell, Rule of the Bone will hopefully become a film that draws generations of new readers in the author’s direction.
3. The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian
Nersesian’s first novel could be considered a decent bedfellow to other 90’s breakouts like Trainspotting and Fight Club, all of them illustrating the lives of disaffected young people, almost like Less Than Zero for a new decade. Nersesian, like Welsh and Palahniuk, has led a career as a prolific prose writer continuing to nail down emotionally apt, yet disparate portrayals of the darker side of the human condition, yet, unlike them, he’s yet to have his career bolstered by Hollywood success. Undoubtedly, The Fuck-Up’s couch surfing, adventures of a man constantly falling upward while narrowly avoiding rock bottom, could be beautifully adapted for the big screen but it’s yet to come to fruition. According to Nersesian, the film has been optioned thrice, by three different producers, all of whom have written their own script. He says the most recent option came along with a great script, producer and cast, but never reached the finish due to budgetary issues.
4. Going Down by Jennifer Belle
Throughout her career some critics have pegged author Jennifer Belle as something of a darker, edgier Candace Bushnell, but to even equate Belle with Bushnell or this novel with Sex and the City seems inexcusably reductionist. At a certain point literary fiction should be just that, regardless of content, and Belle’s work stylistically, feels much more comparable to that of authors like Kathy Acker or Mary Gaitskill than Bushnell. Going Down’s protagonist Bennington Bloom seeks to pay her NYU tuition by giving it a go in the world of high class call girls, a world most recently portrayed in the BBC/Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl. What Going Down has that the Showtime series does not is the more human details of the business, and this make Belle’s novel unique. Belle’s novel feels more like a case of “This is what it would be like if I suddenly decided to become a prostitute,” while the series is more along the line of Californication/Entourage-esque “lifestyle porn.” A film version of Going Down done properly would be more like Midnight Cowboy from a female perspective than Secret Diary of a Call Girl.
A movie adaptation of this novel has been the subject of much speculation due to its original optioning by Madonna. Since the Madonna option, it’s made its way through the hands of numerous notable directors, producers and actors. The film version of Going Down would likely be the perfect breakout vehicle for a young on-the-rise female actress, or a perfect, return-to-glory vehicle for a capable actress working her way back into the spotlight.
5. Lullaby by Chuck Pahalanuik
Chuck P. is a good writer, period. There are those who find his work irritating or have some other under defined problem with him as a writer but I’ve never been able to follow their logic, and if I can follow the plot of Diary, that should be a piece of cake.
Granted, Fight Club was an excellent novel to adapt for film. The film version of Fight Club absolutely did the novel justice. Since then, it’s all been a big mess. Survivor was the next Chuck movie to be adapted for film until 9/11 made producers wary of the book’s implications. This, though silly was probably for the best, as Survivor itself was a strange choice, ditto for Choke. Survivor and especially Choke are great novels that absolutely do not lend themselves to the big screen. This should be apparent by simply reading the back covers of these books. Lullaby however, is a book about an ancient lullaby that causes children to die instantly and may be linked to SIDS — now that’s a movie! Some directors are just meant to mold the clay of certain authors’ work. David Fincher and Chuck Palahniuk belong together and Fincher’s highly stylized technopunk style applied to the plot of Lullaby would inspire the poorest of us to lay down $11.50 for movie tickets.
Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
I put this here because it’s more recent than most of these novels, but also because, I’m pretty sure this is set to happen. Few agree with me when I say that this is Ellis’s masterwork, but even those who disagree must concede that it’s screaming to be made into a film. IMDB has it listed as in pre-production and rumors have swirled about Benecio Del Toro as Bret Easton Ellis. When it comes to author/director soul mates, Roger Avary just might be that for Ellis, as Rules of Attraction, few would argue, is the only successful adaptation of an Ellis book thus far. Lunar Park directed by Roger Avary, with…maybe Michael C Hall as Bret Easton Ellis, that’s my adaptation dream for this film.
The Frog King by Adam Davies
It’s been a major loss for the book-reading world that Adam Davies has not been around for some time. The Frog King (blurbed by both Bret Easton Ellis and Jennifer Belle) is undoubtedly one of the most compelling and convincing books about the business and world of publishing. Apparently though, Frog King is being made into a film, or has been made, and is set to be (or has been) adapted by Bret Easton Ellis himself, a literary match made in heaven if there ever was on. The film is also set to star Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role. However, with such big names attached and so little on the internet about it, it’s hard not to wonder if the kibosh was inexplicably put on this project, thereby becoming another of Hollywood’s great book-to-movie mistakes.