By Diana Cheng
Here’s another list of upcoming movie adaptations from literary sources. Some have been screened at film festivals already, but may take a while to come to your local screens. Some have been announced or in development. All are interesting titles to look forward to and to read in anticipation.
Sometimes a film would introduce us to an author. If you haven’t read Maile Meloy, Certain Women could be the starting point. Meloy’s works had garnered multiple accolades including the PEN/Malamud Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Paris Review Prize for Fiction, and shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Her collection of short stories in the book Both Ways is the Only Way I Want is the source material for the indie film Certain Women directed by Kelly Reichardt. Set in the American West, these are stories of different women in various life situations, flawed characters making choices. It’s always intriguing to see how several short stories can weave into a cinematic whole, and for this one, my expectation is even higher with the nuanced and sensitive direction from Reichardt. The film reunites Reichardt with her Wendy and Lucy (2008) star Michelle Williams, joined by the versatile Kristen Stewart and veteran Laura Dern. Certain Women premiered at Sundance Film Festival this January to high acclaims. Before it hits the big screens in your city, if it ever does, lots of time to check out Meloy’s short stories collection.
The Glass Castle
At last, looks like the movie adaptation of this amazing memoir is finally injected with a second life and hopefully will become reality. Since its publication in 2005, the award-winning childhood account of Jeannette Walls had garnered high acclaims and been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 261 weeks. Now, at the heels of her winning the Oscar Best Actress with her performance in the movie version of Emma Donoghue’s Room, Brie Larson is replacing the previously cast Jennifer Lawrence, reuniting with Short Term 12 director Destin Cretton. Wall’s memoir is a colourful saga of growing up in a dysfunctional, almost nomadic family run by an idealistic but often less than sober father and an artistic but depressed mother. Throughout Wall’s growing up years, resilience shines through and her sense of self remains intact. I have high expectation that the film will bring to life the spirit of the book. Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson play the unconventional parents.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way – Tolstoy” thus begins the book trailer for The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. That explains why we can have so many novels about dysfunctional families, and, so many film adaptations. Sweeney’s debut work reportedly fetched a 7-figure advance from Ecco; not surprisingly, film rights were snatched up soon after. What should be noted is: by whom? Well, as evidence of the booming book/movie enterprise, Amazon Film it is, and Jill Soloway (Transparent) will direct. Note also, just saying, here’s a book with Amy Poehler’s endorsement on the cover. Set in NYC, the story is about four adult children eyeing for an inheritance called The Nest, which – unbeknownst to three of them – had already been squandered by one. Meant to be a humourous take on the dysfunctional, what sounds pathetic is portrayed as satire of the contemporary family. In another smart move, Sweeney will write the script herself, following a proven, rewarding strategy from Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) to Room (Emma Donoghue).
Our Kind of Traitor
Britain’s most famous longtime export in the movie business has to be the James Bond franchise. In recent years, films based on John Le Carré’s spy novels have also shown their edge, appealing to a different kind of viewers, those looking for the cerebral rather than a spectacle. Our Kind of Traitor may just be a breakout of this mode, for the trailer of this new adaptation looks like a Bond or Bourne production, more action and visual tension than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Ewan McGregor plays a university lecturer who is caught in between the Russian Mafia and the British Intelligence. This is Le Carré’s twenty-second novel and the tenth to be turned into a feature film, beginning with the cold war classic that Richard Burton embodied, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in 1963. What surprised me even more, and it’s a pleasant one, is that this new title is helmed by a female director, Susanna White, whose previous works many book lovers might have seen: Parade’s End (2012), Jane Eyre (2006), and Bleak House (2005), among many others, and yes, including Nanny McPhee Returns (2010).
Queen of Katwe
A chess champion is born and nurtured in a most unlikely place, the Katwe slum in Uganda. Queen of Katwe is the true and inspiring story of a girl named Phiona Mutesi who with other children learned this game called ‘chess’ inside the shack that’s the Agape Church in Katwe. Dedicated to nurturing the mind of the children, Robert Katende, a Ugandan civil war refugee-turned-missionary, introduced them to chess and changed their lives, most miraculously, that of 9 year-old Phiona’s. Phiona learned the game quickly and soon was able to beat her coach and later went on to win international games. For a girl in a Uganda slum to reach international chess championship is the ultimate underdog story. Writer Tim Crothers’s book is based on his article for ESPN which was nominated for a 2012 National Magazine Award. The movie adaptation looks to be worthy of Phiona’s personal triumph. The internationally acclaimed Indian director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, 2001) helms the production. Oscar Best Actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave, 2013) plays Phiona’s mother; David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma (2014), is Phiona’s chess coach and mentor Robert Katende.
After Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, based on Lady Susan, premiered at Sundance this January, the movie world has awakened to a different set of Jane Austen other than her six well-known novels. Indeed, the more the merrier to honour the genius that’s Jane’s. Why, who can write a Lady Susan at 18, or 19? Now Sanditon is an upcoming production with Oscar nominated Charlotte Rampling to star as Lady Denham in this last and unfinished manuscript of Austen’s. What a welcome task it is then for British playwright Simon Reade to add the finishing touch for dear Jane. Jim O’Hanlon, who directed Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse in the TV miniseries in 2009 will helm this newest Austen adaptation. Production is planned for this summer in the UK. So for those of you who reside there or planning to visit, watch out for the Sanditon crew. Casting is still underway. Now that’s opportunity for extras.
The Sisters Brothers
Confused? The title refers to the brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious assassins hired during the California Gold Rush to track down a prospector who has allegedly stolen from the Sisters’ boss. The book written by Canadian author Patrick deWitt had won numerous literary awards, including in Canada the 2012 Stephen Leacock Medal for humour writing and the Governor General Literary Awards, and in Britain short-listed for a Man Booker Prize in 2011. Film rights picked up by John C. Reilly who will produce and star. What makes this a go is the recent affiliation of the Cannes Palme d’Or winning French director Jacques Audiard (Dheepan, 2015). His previous notable works Rust and Bones with Marion Cotillard and A Prophet (2010 Oscar nominated Best Foreign Language Film) had shown his skills in serious drama. Now, a humorous Western about two brothers’ misadventures chasing down a gold digger from Oregon to San Francisco? One never can tell. This just might be a proof of Audiard’s versatility, although I must say I was hoping the Coen Brothers would direct this one after their lively styling of True Grit (2011).
R. J. Palacio had not only written a powerful and moving book for 9-12 year-olds, but had also started an anti-bullying movement with it: Choose Kind. Her story about 10 year-old August Pullman, Auggie, who is born with a severe facial abnormality, has stirred the hearts of many readers. Auggie has had twenty-seven surgeries since birth. Homeschooled until grade 5 when his parents feel he needs to face the real world, Auggie starts the school year with much trepidation and extraordinary courage. As he sets foot in Beecher Prep public middle school, he enters the breeding ground of raw feelings and unrestrained cruelty of words. Equally petrified are his parents. Palacio’s book is realistic, relevant and inspiring. According to Amazon, over 3 million people have read this New York Times bestseller; it’s one of my all time favourite children’s books. Wonder is not just for kids obviously. Palacio’s writing is nuanced and gentle. The voice of Auggie instantly stirs up empathy. The voices of other characters are revealing as well. This one deserves a movie adaptation worthy of its cause and eloquent with its heart. The buzz recently is the casting, which I feel is first rate. Jacob Tremblay, the 9 year-old wonder boy who played Jack opposite Brie Larson in Room is to be Auggie. And mom? Julia Roberts it is. As a mother of 10 and 8 year-olds, Roberts would have some insights to instill into her role.
Diana Cheng’s alter ego is Arti of Ripple Effects in the blogosphere.