Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies adapted from a Young Adult Novel

Written for the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. It's easy to join - just pick three films that meet the week's theme, all of which are listed at the link!

Ah, Young Adult literature! Along with superheroes, the bane of the modern adult moviegoer's existence. Actually, saying that does a disservice to some very good films. I think everyone has a special spot in their heart for at least one YA novel, and when it gets turned into a movie, they get very protective of it. I know I did with one particular recent adaptation, which exceeded my expectations in all the best ways. Here is that one, along with two other very good picks for when you want to feed your inner teenager.
The Princess Diaries (Garry Marshall, 2001) I don't really understand the hatred directed towards Anne Hathaway, but I freely admit that that is because I have loved her ever since I first laid eyes on her as awkward teen/budding beauty Mia Thermopolis in Garry Marshall's great teen flick. Face it: The girl is a star, and has been ever since her first moment on screen in this, her feature film debut. But good as she as a girl thrust into the spotlight when she learns she is actually of royal blood and is called upon to rule her family's kingdom (by fairy godgrandmother Julie Andrews, because who else would it be?), I really want to acknowledge how damn good the rest of the cast is. There's Mandy Moore, relishing playing the bitchy bad-girl teen queen; Heather Matarazzo, the perfect teenage activist nerd as Mia's best friend Lily; Erik Von Detten as the perfectly sleazy blonde teen dreamboat; Robert Schwartzman, the quietly cool kid any teenage girl wants as their best friend/boyfriend; Caroline Goodall, all warmth and ease and Mia's bohemian mom; Hector Elizondo as Dame Queen Julie's long-time bodyguard/paramour, perfectly Hector Elizondo-ish; and, most gloriously, Sandra Oh as Vice Principal Gupta, stealing the whole entire movie in three short, hilarious, perfectly timed scenes of comic mastery.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2012) This was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. I was a wallflower, ever the quiet observer, never the active social butterfly seemingly everyone else around me was in middle school and high school. So a whole lot of this book spoke to me on a gut level. I was incredibly nervous when it was announced that the author himself was directing the inevitable feature film version - he had never directed anything before (actually he had directed one feature way back in the 90s)! It smelled of over-protectiveness and over-indulgence. Plus, so much time had passed from the novel's publishing that it would probably feel extremely dated; I mean, mixtapes are central plot points. MIXTAPES. When was the last time you listened to, let alone made, one of those? Imagine my delighted surprise, then, when the film turned out to be a low-key masterpiece, with perfect casting all the way down the line and three truly incredible central performances. Ezra Miller became a star as troubled but nonetheless flamboyant gay teen Patrick. Emma Watson was PERFECTION as his sister Sam (seriously, to my complete and utter shock I can't imagine anyone else playing that part this well). And Logan Lerman. Logan Lerman, giving one of the all-time great teen performances as titular wallflower Charlie. And it turns out Chbosky is no slouch as a director either, choosing his moments for directorial flourishes very carefully for maximum impact. I'm sorry I ever doubted him. Bonus points for a perfect ending.
The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt, 2013) I do not understand why Perks and this lovely film received platform releases. Teenagers don't go to art house cinemas. They just DON'T. Yes, they're both much quieter than the usual teen fare (like my bonus pick), but being based of popular YA novels, they have a built-in audience. Plus, teens like to go see movies about themselves. Both of these films could have been much bigger hits than they were if they had opened wide. Not massive, world-conquering hits, but still. Anyway, the heart of The Spectacular Now is the lovely, wholly believable relationship between Miles Teller's Sutter Keely and Shailene Woodley's Aimee Finecky. You will not find a more authentic-feeling relationship in any other teen movie, YA adaptation or not. Yes, the film is maybe a bit too quiet for its own good, but it has a real empathy for its characters that is lacking in most films of this ilk. I love this scene, where perpetually buzzed bad-ish boy Sutter kisses shy good-girl Aimee (how does Woodley manage to be so movie-star beautiful but perfectly real at the same time?) for the first time. When the film was over, I just wanted to spend more time with these characters, and that's saying something. Bonus points for Kyle Chandler's perfectly calibrated cameo, and an ending that deviates from the book and actually improves on it.

BONUS PICK
The Fault In Our Stars (Josh Boone, 2014) If you don't cry at least once by the end of The Fault in Our Stars, you might not have a heart. Just saying. The story of cancer-stricken Hazel Grace Lancaster and her too-perfect-to-be-true boyfriend/cancer survivor Augustus Waters has been scientifically engineered by author John Green for maximum tear production. The screenplay was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who also wrote the superior The Spectacular Now, and it's hard not to wish it had that film's director as well, since the whole thing is far glossier than it should be. The novel makes quite a large point of railing against standard cancer-kid storylines and tropes, and while the film doesn't quite go so far as to play those tropes unironically, it largely replaces them with standard teen rom-com tropes, which the novel tends to twist a bit. Basically, this is one instance - unlike the three I picked this week - where I would happily tell anyone who hasn't seen the movie yet to read the book instead, despite Shailene Woodley's remarkable lead performance.

22 comments:

  1. UGH, The Fault in Our Stars left my wife and I in puddles. It was the hardest movie I think I've ever watched. Crushing.

    I'm constantly reminded that having not yet seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a bad thing. I need to rectify that soon.

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    1. If you can believe it, the book (Fault in Our Stars) is even WORSE in terms of how much it makes you cry. I was openly, loudly SOBBING on my commuter train home when I got to the end, not even caring what everyone around me must have been thinking.

      You MUST see Perks of Being a Wallflower. NOW. Especially if you've read the book. It is really special.

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  2. I have Fault on my DVR, I haven't gotten around to it yet though. I love Perks and Spectacular Now though. Those are fantastic little films.

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    1. Save Fault for when you need a good cry.

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  3. The Princess Diaries is a really cute movie especially with that added bonus of Julie Andrews, I wouldn't say I hate Anne Hathaway but a little of her goes a long way for me, still in this she's fetching.

    I can't say the same for Shailene Woodley who I find irksome beyond pretty much any new young actress I can think of. Haven't seen The Fault in Our Stars yet but I absolutely hated The Spectacular Now and her in it.

    When I worked in a bookstore The Perks of Being a Wallflower was wildly popular but because it was YA I never got around to it so I've never been drawn to the film but you make it sound worth checking out.

    Two of the ones I picked this week are tough to classify, they could be considered something for younger kids or adults but they were always shelved in the YA section of the bookstore, if not classics, so I used that as my guide. The first though is YA without question. My three are:

    Geography Club (2013)-Closeted teen Russell has a crush on jock Kevin, whom he discovers is also in the closet. So they can spend time together without others becoming aware of their involvement they form The Geography Club with a few other friends who have secrets of their own, figuring it will sound so boring no one else will want to join. All goes as planned at first but peer pressure and outside forces change them all and the club in unexpected ways, some good some bad. Not perfect but deeply felt.

    The Secret Garden (1993)-A young British girl orphaned in an Indian earthquake is sent to live with her distant, severe uncle on his estate. Left to her own devises she eventually stumbles upon a garden locked away and forgotten. She discovers as she tends it that it holds the key to the happiness of everyone in the manor. Maggie Smith plays the housekeeper of the manor.

    Little Women (1949)-Candy colored version of the stalwart Louisa May Alcott classic of four sisters and their tower of strength mother's struggles while their father is away fighting in the Civil War. Great collection of actresses, Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson, Janet Leigh and Margaret O'Brien as the sisters-Mary Astor as Marmee and Lucile Watson as Aunt March make this worth seeing. The 1933 Katharine Hepburn and the 1994 Winona Ryder versions probably have more heft but this is an entertaining take with that Golden Age MGM sheen.

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    1. I love Julie Andrews in Princess Diaries so much. The movie is just cute as a button.

      I'm curious as to why you find Shailene so irksome (LOVE that word, BTW - so underused) and why you hated Spectacular Now so much. I'll admit I didn't LOVE it when I first saw it, but I've found it has a lot of staying power, and the good stuff really, REALLY stands out in my memory. I didn't care for her in The Descendants (but then again, I thought the movie was pretty awful on the whole, so....), but thought she was great here, and possibly even better in Stars.

      Definitely see The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I've heard it likened to "misery porn" for teens because it deals with pretty much every awful thing that has ever happened to any teenager ever, but I think it does so very realistically, and the performances are so, SO great.

      Geography Club has been recommended to be a few times and is on my list. I grew up with the '93 version of Secret Garden and it is one of my All-Time Favorites. The book too, but I always thought it leaned more Children's book than YA (I definitely read it before I hit double-digit ages). The '49 Little Women is the only version of that story I haven't seen, but my favorite remains the '94 version. Ryder and Sarandon were very worthy Oscar nominees, and Claire Danes is the first actress to make me cry in a movie.

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    2. I dislike Woodley because to me she's so wan and monotone. She practically evaporates in her scenes. Spectacular Now I just couldn't connect to from the first and I really hated the main pair. I try and finish a film if I start it and I did make it through this one but I was close a couple of times to shutting it off.

      I picked the Liz Taylor version of Little Women because I was pretty sure everyone would have seen the Winona Ryder and to a lesser extent the Kate Hepburn ones and I try to pick more obscure films to perhaps shine a little light on them. This was Taylor's last role transitioning her out of her teens after her next film Conspirator she was unquestionably a woman.

      This version had originally been proposed several years earlier as a musical with Judy Garland as Jo and Deanna Durbin as Meg but it never gelled, a major stumbling block would have been Universal's resistant to lending their golden goose Deanna especially to MGM which had let her slip through their fingers but would have been a fascinating film. After that David Selznick actually started filming a version with Jennifer Jones as Jo but abandoned the project, probably realizing that Jones was all wrong for it and sold the rights back to Metro who promptly put this one into production.

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    3. OMG Judy would have been a STELLAR Jo. Damn studio system! They couldn't have found another MGM star to be Meg (the blandest of the sisters)? Yikes, Jones is an AWFUL choice for Jo - thank God that never got finished!

      I guess I can see that about Woodley - one person's naturalistic is another person's wan. I find both her and Teller very natural in Spectacular Now. I can also see how that film would be off-putting in the beginning, which is not really "of a piece" with the style of the rest of the film. Plus, Sutter is kind of an asshole character.

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    4. If they had been able to get Deanna, a real long shot, I'm sure they would have beefed up Meg, I can't imagine Universal okaying her loan-out otherwise, but that would have thrown the whole dynamic of the story off. I actually could see Deanna making a spirited Jo and Judy a terrific Amy with all her drama.

      I don't know who else was proposed but the idea was floated around around 1941/42 so some casting that could have worked with it being a musical: Kathryn Grayson would have made a good Meg with Jeanette MacDonald as Marmee and Shirley Temple, who was under contract to MGM for a few years about that time, would have been just about the right age for Beth, with maybe Tony Martin as Laurie, he wasn't much of an actor but sang like a dream although the studio would have probably tried to stick that damn Mickey Rooney in there somewhere! Now that would have been a cast of a lifetime!!

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  4. I agree that both Wallflowers and Now are great and should be seen. But Stars really bugged me. Too syrupy. I hate movies/books that beg for tears.

    www.assholeswatchingmovies.com

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    1. ...yeah, the film of Stars is definitely on the syrupy side. The book, though. LOVED IT. It has just the right amount of sour to balance out the sweet.

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  5. I really loved TFIOS, although I haven't read the book yet. I need to get on that!
    - Allie

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    1. The book is SO MUCH BETTER. Seriously. Definitely get on that!

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  6. Enjoyed The Princess Diaries...it was super cute and Mandy Moore was great; I think she excels playing mean girls. Have you seen Saved? She's one in that too.
    I thought The Perks of the Wallflower got a pretty wide release didn't it? Didn't its cast got some MTV movie award...which tend to happen to teen movies the kids go to watch.

    Wandering through the Shelves

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    1. LOVE Saved! And LOVE Mandy Moore when she plays mean girls.

      Perks got a widER release than Spectacular Now, but still not very wide. And it really could have made a killing based on the title alone.

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  7. The Princess Diaries and TFIOS make my list too, both are wonderful movies. I think I need to revisit Spectacular Now some time, maybe after I read the book! Great picks!

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    1. I actually really want to rewatch Spectacular Now. Haven't seen it since I saw it in theaters and it's grown in my estimation since then. I want to see which opinion was more right lol

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  8. Ok. You are so right about Perks and Spectacular Now, man! These are movies that ALL TEENAGERS should see. It should be required viewing actually, if you ask me. These movies could make money at the multiplexes, yet they are shooed away for, dare I say it!, being too smart. Intelligence scares the powers that be. Honestly, I teach middle grades kids, and I know hundreds of kids currently in high school. They would love both of these movies and are totally capable of "getting" them. That's the thing I didn't like about TFIOS. It's more pandering. It's too easy in the end. It's not a bad movie, but I just resented it because of the system's refusal to release great movies to the masses.

    The Princess Diaries I haven't seen.

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    1. FUCK YES, man! It's actually because they were indies, I think - although I have no freaking clue why a major studio wouldn't want those properties as they are. If I were a high school teacher, I would show Perks to all my classes.

      Fault In Our Stars the movie is totally too easy. Fault In Our Stars the book, is not. I felt like they ironed out quite a bit for the movie, which shouldn't be surprising, but kind of was. Have you read the book?

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  9. Wow! We got two picks in common---The Perks and The Spectacular. I love both of them in terms of narratives and acting. I read the books and watched the movies, I always think that the movies are way too "bright" compared to the book, but they're very classy...

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  10. I love Perks. Still haven't seen your other two regular picks. As for your bonus pick, I'll own up to not having a soul because I hated it. Too sappy, too predictable and way too manipulative.

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    1. LOL at least you can admit it! I fully admit to being in the tank for the film since I loved the book so much. I didn't find it great, but I still teared up. But that could very well have been residual tears left over from the book.

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