Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writers on the Silver Screen

Do lawyers enjoy the depictions of themselves in movies? Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch probably propelled a lot of college students into law school, but lots of courtroom dramas serve up procedural inaccuracies and rafts of bad-guy attorneys. If I were a lawyer, I'd squirm when watching those flicks.

I've read of chefs who consider the finest film depiction of their craft to be Disney's Ratatouille, but car salesmen probably wish Fargo would disappear from the earth.

Writer protagonists in movies often suffer writer's block. They're frequently shown as desperate hacks in thrall to money or alcohol, not art. I can't get enough of them—and I'm not alone.

A recent post at Book Riot about author protagonists on the big and little screens triggered many retweets on Twitter.

Like Dr. B, the Book Riot post's author, I'm a fan of Stranger than Fiction, Castle, and The Squid and the Whale. Warning: the latter serves up adult characters so self-absorbed the movie's painful to watch although well-crafted. I haven't seen Down with Love or Spaced but plan to put both in my Netflix queue. Simon Pegg's in Spaced, and that's all I need to know since I belly-laughed through Hot Fuzz. Go ahead, judge me. I don't mind.

The comments that followed Book Riot's post yielded more movies with writer characters. Judy Lunsford nominated Paper Man, Misery, The Hours, Shakespeare in Love, Finding Forrester, Miss Potter, and Romancing the Stone.

Nice going, Judy! I missed Misery because I'm a 'fraidy cat who avoids anything that hints at horror but recall the others fondly, especially Miss Potter, (which featured Renee Zellweger as children's book author Beatrix Potter) a memorable movie that didn't seem to find its audience. As for Romancing the Stone, be still my heart. Two or three people may think I write because I want to entertain or illuminate the human condition. They're wrong. Deep down, I yearn for the adventure and happy ending the Joan Wilder character found in RtS. Go ahead, judge me. I don't mind.

Book Riot commenter Jeff O'Neal nominated Barton Fink. Good call! The title character, a playwright, leeaves New York for Hollywood lured by the promise of easy screenwriting money. Instead, he finds writer's block. Because misery loves company and I'm often stalled in my writing, I reveled in Barton's agony even though the movie left me with a fear of wallpaper and John Goodman. (I ache for myself and writer friends who hit roadblocks, but when a writer on screen stumbles, the schadenfreude is delicious.)

Speaking of which, another excellent nomination came from commenter Jape: Adaptation. Yes! Barton Fink mined writer's block, but Adaptation drilled a deeper, darker shaft. Its high misery-loves-company quotient invigorates me because, miserable and sick with fear as I am, I'm not quite as anxious and self-loathing as the Charlie Kaufman character, bless him.

My writer-as-protagonist nomination? Ghostwriter. This movie requires the writer to unravel a mystery. When he does, bwa, ha, ha, he must pay the price.

Your turn. What movies or television shows featuring writer characters did/do you find entertaining? Why?


Sarah Andre said...

Oh yes, Pat. I identify strongly with Joan Wilder In Romancing the Stone (except I have 2 Poms, no cats.) But the ratty hair, the ratty bathrobe and not getting out of the house for days is me when I am on my own self-imosed deadline. And I have yet to write "The End" without bursting into tears too.

Johnny Depp in Secret Window was creepy but the dark side of me identifies with a writer so crazed with inner demons and writer's block that he ends up...well, odd.
Sarah Andre

Lark Howard said...

Great post, Pat! Not everyone loves movies about their profession. My husband refuses to watch anything with an architect protagonist. On the rare occassions he unintentionally finds himself in the theatre or in front of a DVD about an archtiect, he grumbles all the way through. I really can't blame him. So far I have yet to see a flick that is even close to the reality of the profession.

Writers write movies, so it isn't surprising they portray the writing life more accurately. What romance writer doesn't love RtS? Really. Also love SECRET WINDOW which proved my claim I could happily watch Johnny sleep for 2 hours.

I love so many of the movies named. Nobody has mentioned STRANGER THAN FICTION. Whatever Emma Thompson writes about her protagonist happens to Will Farrell's character. Thought that was interesting.

Then there's my new absolute favorite--MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Owen Wilson plays a modern screenwriter with literary ambitions visiting Paris who is transported to the literary and art scene of the 20's--Hemmingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein. It's brilliant!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Sarah,
Me, too! Me, too! The more anxious, disheveled, crazed, the writer is on screen, the more I identify with him/her. I haven't seen Johnny Depp in Secret Window, but will check it out on Netflix now. Thanks for the tip--and thanks for stopping by.

Kimberly Frost said...

I love movies about writers! Such a great post!

I adore:



STATE & MAIN (really about the movie industry but there's a screenwriter character I like)

POSSESSION (about poets and literary researchers)

FUNNY FARM (a hilarious take on moving to a small town to work on a novel and all the things that go wrong)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
Mindy Kaling wrote a funny article for the New Yorker earlier this month about female stereotypes in movies. One of those stereotypes is the female art gallery worker/owner. Kaling wrote: "How many frickin' art galleries are there?" She added: "The Gallery Worker character is the rare female movie archetype that has a male counterpart. Whenever you meet a handsome, charming, successful man in a romantic comedy, the heroine’s friend always says the same thing: 'He’s really successful. He’ architect!'”

Here's the link to the article:

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Kimberly,
Whoa! Except for Stranger Than Fiction, I haven't seen any of the movies you mentioned. Netflix and I will fix that pronto. Thanks for feeding my writers-on-screen obsession. And thanks for stopping by.

JOAN REEVES aka SlingWords said...

I'll agree with Kimberly Frost's list. Also will add an obscure movie I saw on Lifetime that was hilarious.

Kirstie Alley produced and starred. "And She Was" about a middle-aged screenwriter who can't get arrested in our youth capital of Hollywood so she hires her young nephew to pose as a screenwriter.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Joan,
Thanks for the recommendation of "And She Was." God knows I identify with Kirstie Alley's weight issues. Now she plays a woman who faces age discrimination? I'm so there.

It's always good to "see" you, Joan.