Tag Archives: book vs movie

Room: Book vs. Movie

download (25)I haven’t done a book vs. movie post in a while, even though I have seen movies in the last few years that were based on books I’ve read (like Gone Girl). But I was inspired to write this post after seeing the movie adaptation of Room by Emma Donoghue, a book I read in 2010. Both are excellent.

Both the movie and the book versions of Room deal with a very painful and difficult subject: the imprisonment of a young woman and later, her son, in a small garden shed for 7 years by a sadistic man who kidnapped her off the street when she was 17. Ma, as she is known in both versions, has worked to create a stimulating and nurturing world for her son Jack, while protecting him from witnessing the nightly visits from her captor. The space they live in is tiny and claustrophobia-inducing, but she manages to get through the years with toys made from recycled trash, five books, a TV and her son’s imagination.

Shortly after the book and movie open, Ma decides it is time to make an extremely risky move to try to save herself and Jack. The escape from the shed is extremely harrowing, both in print and on screen (I actually had to watch it sped up even though I knew what was going to happen). Its immediate aftermath is also extremely intense.

The second half of both book and movie are about their lives in the world after they are out of the shed. It isn’t as stressful as the first half, but it’s just as intense emotionally, as Ma (named Joy in the movie) tries to reconnect with her parents and suffers a breakdown after a few weeks at home. Watching Jack try to deal with new relationships, an entirely new physical existence and his mother’s moods, is difficult. But both book and movie end on a hopeful note as you see each of them trying to move past what happened.

Emma Donoghue wrote the book and also adapted it for the screen. The book is told from Jack’s perspective, while the movie shifts more broadly to cover Joy’s worldview too. The book is more quirky (it’s told from the mind of a 5 year-old), and, like most movie adaptations, there are a lot of details in the book that are left out in the movie. I think Ma in the book is a little harsher than Joy in the movie, though Joy in the movie is hardly sunny.

Ultimately, I can’t say that one is better than the other. The visual impact of actually seeing the shed, aka Room, and watching the escape, made watching the movie a very intense experience for me. I was crying pretty much through the entire first half of the movie and some parts of the second. It’s one thing to try to imagine the hell Ma lived through, and it’s another to see it. The acting is fantastic – Brie Larson did a great job as Ma, and Jacob Tremblay was perfect as Jack. He remained true to character the whole time, never cloying or overacting. He beautifully conveyed bewilderment, fear, anger, affection – all of the emotions a boy in his situation would have experienced. And Jack’s relationship with his mother was beautiful. Not perfect, but beautiful.

I know there are people who avoided reading Room given the subject matter, and I am sure there are many people who won’t see the movie for the same reason. I won’t try to talk them out of it because I found both to be difficult. But they were so worth it. It’s a story I won’t ever forget.

Advantage: Both.


Book vs. Movie: “The Help”

Thehelp At BlogHer, I was given the opportunity to see a preview of the upcoming movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I read The Help in spring 2010, about a year after it seemed that most people had read it, and I liked it. (Here’s my review of The Help.) For the uninitiated, The Help is about the relationship between black domestics and white employers in the South in the 60s, told through the perspective of black maids and a young white woman who decides to help them tell their story.

I found the subject matter extremely compelling, and was glad that Stockett had taken it on. My main complaints about The Help were, first, that I felt that Stockett had added some gimmicks and plot twists to the book that were totally unnecessary and detracted from the power of the story itself, which needed no such embellishments; and second, that it read like a screenplay, rather than a piece of historic fiction, and that Stockett "had the inevitable movie adaptation in mind while she was writing".

So now, it is a screenplay. The Help, which just opened nationwide, is a faithful screen adaption of Stockett’s book. But the movie was better than the book. Stockett wrote the black women’s sections in their voices, mimicking their diction, which I found distracting. In the movie, that distraction is gone. The performances were beautiful – from Aibileen’s dignified veneer masking her simmering anger to Skeeter’s awkward earnestness, the movie was pitch perfect. Great casting too – Bryce Dallas Howard’s despicable Hilly, Octavia Spencer as Minny, Viola Davis’s Aibileen and Emma Stone (looking about as gawky as possible for such a lithe beauty) as Skeeter – these were exactly the people I had in mind when I read the book.

The movie does a beautiful job of capturing the deep injustices of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, with lush Southern estates contrasted with the working class houses to which the domestics wearily trudge each evening after a day spent wearing maid’s uniforms and panty hose in those same estates. The details of the movie were perfect, from the white women’s bridge games and Junior League benefits, with their floral pastel dresses and starchily coiffed hair, to the black churches and city buses.  There are a few violent scenes in the book, but they are not shown onscreen, which this movie wimp appreciated.

Overall, I found the movie of The Help to be an improvement over the book, which was admittedly already a good one. If you haven’t read The Help, either because you were put off by the hype or just haven’t gotten to it, I’d highly recommend the movie, which on its own is excellent. If you have read The Help, I suspect you’ll love the movie, either because you’ll find it a faithful interpretation of one of your favorite reads, or, like me, you’ll find it to be even better than the book.

Advantage: movie.

Lionel Shriver on the Movie Version of WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

When it comes to books being made into movies, I always have an opinion. And the more I like the book, the stronger the opinion. Sometimes I worry that I liked a book so much that the movie will never compare… such as with The Namesake (loved the book, liked the movie almost as much), or with The Time Traveler’s Wife (loved the book, didn’t think the movie measured up, though it was a noble effort).

Sometimes I am reluctant to see the movie, either because the book was difficult to read (The Kite Runnertoo violent/disturbing) or because I just didn’t like the book much at all (Water for Elephants).

I’ve come across a movie adaptation that I am very scared to see for two reasons – 1) I loved the book and can’t imagine a movie doing it justice; and 2) it’s the most disturbing book I have ever read and I don’t know if I can sit through it, knowing what I know is going to happen. That book, of course, is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (reviewed here).

Lionel Shriver was recently interviewed by The Guardian about her own feelings about the movie adaptation of her bestseller. It’s a fascinating read – check it out here. I really enjoyed this article. (H/T to TLB for passing it along!)

Will you see “We Need to Talk About Kevin”?


Tttw Last night, I saw the movie version of The Time Traveler’s Wife (reviewed on this blog here). I was a bit apprehensive about the movie, both because I feared that the movie wouldn’t do the book justice, and because I was dreading watching some of the more difficult scenes from the book. But I knew I had to steel myself and see it. Here is my take on book vs. movie, Time Traveler-style.

Warning: there are spoilers ahead, both of the book and the movie. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet, proceed with caution!

The movie The Time Traveler’s Wife has gotten mixed to negative reviews, but I have to say that I enjoyed it. I wonder what I would have thought had I not read the book (and would love to hear from anyone who has seen it but not read it), but I thought the movie was as faithful to the book as it could have been in two hours. There is a lot that the movie left out, but it covered the main plot points of the book – Henry’s mother’s death, his relationship with Clare, their friendship with Gomez, and the birth of their daughter.

The first part of the movie felt a little rushed – the early days when Clare is young and Henry is older, and their “courtship” during her teen years, are treated very quickly – and I felt that it left out some of the interesting elements of their early relationship, such as when they sleep together for the first time when she’s 18, and some of the getting-to-know-each-other scenes in Clare’s early 20s.

But the movie does a nice job of demonstrating the inevitability of their relationship, Clare’s frustration about not having been able to choose the direction of her life, and the depth of their love. I also liked that the movie was sort of dark and shadow-y in the way that the book was. Clare and Henry don’t live in bright, whitewashed settings in a sun-kissed golden Hollywood world – their lives were at times gritty and cold and sad and sort of messy. And the movie captured that well.

Casting-wise, Rachel McAdams was perfect. Just perfect. (How can she look so beautiful no matter what she is doing or wearing?). I didn’t love Eric Bana. I imagined Henry as a little more slight – Bana is tall and toned. He also seemed kind of mechanical. I know that Henry was a closed-off, walled person when Clare met him, but Bana’s portrayal of him never really let those walls come down (except when Alba was around, when he adopted that classic beatific parental gaze that Hollywood likes to use to convey that a character really, really loves his or her child).

Some things that the movie left out: Henry’s troubles at work due to his disappearing, the Ingrid storyline, the sexual episodes with Gomez and Clare, most of Clare’s relationship with her family, and Henry’s losing his feet (he does end up in a wheelchair but it’s not as bad as in the book). Henry’s impregnating Clare takes place in a car, instead of in bed with an older Henry sleeping next to them (which I found disappointing, because that was a memorable part of the book), and the final scene, when Clare is 80. My friend with whom I saw the movie thought that the movie ended on a more ambiguous, hopeful note, perhaps to satisfy a mass audience.

A few other quibbles… Bana doesn’t look different enough from scene to scene to cue the viewer about how old he is. Other than some grey hair at his wedding, he doesn’t really look that much older as the ceremony groom than he does as the first dance groom. And at the end of the movie, we’re supposed to think that he is wasting away, getting sicker and thinner, but he really doesn’t. The movie doesn’t convey the inevitability of Henry’s decline the way the book did.

Ok, so what did I like? For me, I just loved seeing this book play out on screen. Going through the same calculations and mystery-solving in the theater as I did while reading the book. And most of all, just giving in to the (admittedly sappy at times) love story between these two people who were bound to each other at the most basic and fundamental level.

I recommend seeing the movie, especially if you have read the book. I view it as sort of a companion piece for the book – it certainly doesn’t come close to replicating the experience of reading it, and the alternating first person narration, which was so effective in the book, is lost on the screen. But the movie doesn’t offend the book in any way, and I am very glad that I saw it.

Book vs. Movie: THE READER

Kate_winslet_the_reader_movie_image__1_ One of the movies getting a lot of attention this Oscar season is "The Reader", which is about the relationship between a German teenager who becomes physically and emotionally involved with an older woman in the 60s. The woman turns out to have been a Nazi guard, and is tried in a German court after the Holocaust. The book spans the whole relationship and tell the story from the point of view of Michael Berg, the boy – later the man – whose life was so affected by Hanna Schmitz.

"The Reader" is based on a book of the same name by Bernhard Schlink. I must have bought the book years ago, as it has been sitting on my shelf for a long time with a price tag from The Strand, but I had never read it. I saw the movie a few weeks ago, and decided upon returning home to pick up the book and read it too.

The story is quite compelling. Hanna and Michael develop an admittedly inappropriate sexual relationship after a chance meeting in a street. The relationship, however, goes deeper than that. Hanna - a rather cold, private woman –  asks Michael to read books to her during their afternoon trysts, and it is then that she reveals vulnerability and her quixotic emotions. Michael, a sensitive and inexperienced teenager, quickly falls in love with Hanna and learns to tolerate her mood swings and bad temper.

After a few months together, Hanna disappears without a word. Years later, Michael (then a law student) discovers that she is one of several Nazi guards on trial in a nearby town. He attends every day of the trial as part of a seminar he's taking in law school. The second half of the book and movie explore Hanna's guilt, Michael's reaction to learning about who she really was, and the complex path their relationship takes from there.

I'll start with the movie. I liked it a lot – probably the most of any Oscar movie this season (along with "Vicky Cristina Barcelona".The acting is very good. Kate Winslet does an admirable job of portraying a difficult and often extremely unlikeable woman. Both the younger and the older Michael Bergs (the latter played by Ralph Fiennes) are equally convincing. The movie is sad and serious, and ultimately quite thought-provoking.

ReaderThe book is equally good, but for different reasons. I appreciated the visual aspect of the movie – getting to see the characters, the courtroom, even the (empty) concentration camp scenes. The book, meanwhile, really fleshed out the moral quandaries of the story in a way the movie simply couldn't. I got a much better sense from the book of how much Michael really loved Hanna his whole life. The book also explored the philosophical questions of guilt and responsibility – the main themes of the story – much more successfully than the movie did. I don't fault the acting (never will a bad word about Ralph Fiennes be written on this blog!), or even the screenplay, for that – there are just certain things a book can communicate better than a movie.

For me, the book and the movie complemented each other perfectly. Each of the experiences of reading and watching were made richer by the other. I loved having the visual hooks of the movie in my mind as I was reading, and reading the book really made the movie even more thought-provoking.

I recommend them both. I usually prefer to read a book before seeing it as a movie, but the reverse worked just fine for me here.

I'd love to hear from others on this – did you have a preference for the book or the movie?


I saw "Revolutionary Road" – movie version – tonight. Here's my take on book vs. movie.

RR First, I wonder if I was crippled by having JUST read the book. I felt as if I were watching a play, one whose script I knew by heart. This made the movie seem more like a performance than a believable world that pulled me in. The movie is pretty faithful to the book. There are some plot points in the book that don't make it into the movie, and a few details are changed in the movie. Some of these changes make sense - of course the book had to be streamlined to turn it into a two-hour movie. Some of the changes make less sense, but I don't want to get into them here for fear of spoiling the movie for those who haven't seen it.

Like the book, the movie is not uplifting. And like the book, some of the fights between April and Frank Wheeler are not convincing or well-explored. Why is she so angry at him at the end? Does she honestly believe that she doesn't love him? Have all of her prior kindnesses toward him been purely calculated to get her where she wants to go? The movie is even more spare than the book, and offers less explanation for why April is who she is.

I will say this for the movie – visually, I got a better sense of why April and Frank's world was so inflexible and suffocating than I did reading the novel. I know I wrote in my review that I didn't think Revolutionary Road the novel was necessarily successful as a statement about the 50s. The movie, however, changed my mind a bit. April's unhappiness – her restlessness – made a lot more sense after seeing the movie and understanding how she lived.

All in all, I didn't love either the movie or the book. But I definitely found reading the book to be more satisfying and ultimately more enjoyable than watching the movie. So… Advantage: Book.

Book vs. Movie: ATONEMENT

AtonementI saw "Atonement" tonight, which is the movie version of Ian McEwan’s wonderful book of the same name. I was kind of dreading seeing it, for two reasons: 1) it’s a sad story; and 2) I feared that the book couldn’t do the movie justice.

Well, the movie is as sad as the book, but the good news is that the movie is excellent and quite faithful to the book.  While a two hour movie could never adequately capture McEwan’s tremendous prose, nor his painstaking descriptions of wartime Britain, it makes a valiant effort to capture the various worlds that the book creates.  The movie of course hits on the book’s predominant themes of artistic license, the true meaning of atonement, and the definition of "truth," and, I predict, will be as memorable as the book was.

I won’t give away too much, for those who haven’t read the book and plan to see the movie. I will just say that Atonement fans shouldn’t be disappointed.

I’d love to hear from others who’ve read and seen Atonement – what do you think?

Book vs Movie: EVENING

MinotExciting news this summer: one of my all-time favorite books, Evening, is being released as a movie in late June.

Evening, by Susan Minot, is one woman’s look back on her life from her dwindling dying days. As Ann Lord passes in and out of consciousness, visitors and keepsakes trigger memories of different points in her life — and her various romances.  Sometimes her memories are clear; sometimes they rush back in fragments and blurs. It is a beautiful, sad novel, full of wistfulness and passion. I absolutely loved it.

The movie comes out on June 29 and stars Claire Danes, Meryl Streep, Toni Collette, Glenn Close, Natasha Richardson, and Vanesssa Redgrave.  I can’t wait to see it and will definitely report back after I do. I hope I am not disappointed.

Book vs Movie: THE NAMESAKE

NamesakeI saw “The Namesake” tonight, which is based on Jumpa Lahiri’s book The Namesake. Great book, very good movie.

For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s about an Indian couple who have an arranged marriage and move to the U.S., where they have two children and settle outside New York City.  Their children grow up torn between their parents’ traditional Indian lifestyles and their wholly American sensibilities. The book is a poignant story about the push and pull of generations, tradition, and the need to forge one’s own identity.

So which is better? The book, of course, has the benefit of detail and eloquence. The movie, however, is faithful to the book, retaining the most important plot points and some of the details that made the book so memorable. (Though as I sit here now, flipping through the book, I am discovering a lot of little insights and plot developments that the movie, by necessity, left out). So while the book is perhaps more nuanced and certainly fuller than the movie, the movie admirably captures the bittersweet themes of the book.  Given the challenges of cramming 291 pages into 117 minutes, the adapted screenplay did about as good a job as it could have. Advantage: Tie.

Even if you haven’t read the book, go see the movie. Definitely the best I have seen this year, with the possible exception of “The Queen.”

Anyone care to weigh in on the merits of Book vs. Movie, “Namesake” edition?


It’s one of my favorite times of year again – Oscar season – and I am in the throes of my annual push to see as many nominated movies and performances as I can before the awards are handed out. (If you don’t already know – Oscar Sunday is on February 25th).  I just saw two movies whose screenplays were adapted from books that I’ve read within the last few years: Notes on a Scandal, adapted from What Was She Thinking?, by Zoe Heller, and Little Children, adapted from the book of the same name by Tom Perrotta.  After the movies, I naturally I started reflecting on how faithfully the movies reflected the books, and which I liked better.

ScandalNotes on a Scandal is the story of Sheba, a teacher at a high school in London who has an affair with one of her students. Both the movie and the book are told through the perspective of an older, single, bitter teacher at the same school who befriends the pretty, 30-something Sheba and manipulates her into becoming her friend and confidante.  The older teacher is played masterfully by Judi Dench, and Sheba by Cate Blanchett, both of whom have been nominated for Oscars.  It’s a good movie – well-edited, suspenseful, and expertly written. There was nothing in the movie that was inconsistent with my memory of the book, and I felt that the adaptation worked hard to maintain the tone of an emotional thriller – like the book – as opposed to simply telling a salacious tale. I do think that if you’ve read the book beforehand, you’re at a bit of a disadvantage because you know in advance how much to trust the narrator and what her motives are, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie.  Note: The adapted screenplay for Notes on a Scandal has been nominated for an Oscar. Advantage: Tie. Both are worth it.

Children_1 Little Children explores the unsatisfying lives of several suburban parents whose lives intersect one hot summer in a New Jersey (?) community.  Kate Winslet plays a young mother married to an older, emotionally remote husband with a daughter she views more as a burden than a joy.  She meets a stay-at home dad at the playground, flirts with him to annoy the catty moms she’s been hanging out with, and before long the two are having a full-fledged affair.  The movie’s about adults behaving badly and running from responsibility, while also touching on the mommy wars and the flawed utopia of the suburbs. I blogged many months ago about Tom Perrotta and his book Little Children, which is pretty closely followed by the screenplay.  There are a few plot elements that were changed from the book to the movie – notably, the ending – but for the most part, the screenplay adaptation is faithful. (This is not surprising, given that it was adapted by Perrotta himself). However, the book and movie are pretty different. While Perrotta’s subject in Little Children was serious, he gave it the lightly comic touch that characterize his other novels – wry and observant, but hardly tragic.  The movie, on the other hand, was almost like a fable – a tale of Everymen complete with a moral at the end.  It was much more heavyhanded than the novel – not surprising given the director (Todd Field, who also directed In the Bedroom – hardly a light story). Whatever humor could be found in the book – and there was a fair amount of it – was stripped away in the movie.  I also found the acting a bit stilted, and the movie was too long.  The book, on the other hand, was thoroughly enjoyable and a good read, even if you didn’t find any of the characters likable. Advantage: book.

Little Children has also been nominated for an Oscar for adapted screenplay, so this should be an interesting year for this category (one of my two favorites of the night, the other being original screenplay).  The other contenders are Borat, Children of Men, and The Departed. I haven’t started my official Oscar research this year, but I will predict that the award goes either to Borat or The Departed.