“Like anything worth writing, it came inexplicably and without merit.”: Writers on Screen
This week, we here at Book Riot ran the trailer for Young Adult, the much anticipated new Charlize Theron vehicle. The film’s concept has been getting some raised eyebrows in the YA community due to concerns that it trades in certain assumptions about writers of Young Adult fiction — that they write for young people essentially because they never really grew up. I’m reserving judgement on the film until I see whether the protagonist has real depth (also, the movie has Patton Oswalt, so I’m already 75% in love with it). But watching the trailer got me thinking about some of my other favourite recent pop culture offerings that give us authors as protagonists. (Is Lit Film a genre? Cuz if it is, it’s my favourite after things-that-take-place-on-campsuses.) Here’s my top five — share yours in the comments!
1. Stranger than Fiction. Such an under-appreciated little film (and it may reshape your preconceptions about Will Ferrell). In it, the glorious Emma Thompson plays an author who is unwittingly writing/narrating the life of a mild-mannered IRS agent. The central question of the film is a shattering one: would you rather be alive, or would you rather be art? (The title of this post, incidentally, comes from the film.)
2. Down with Love. I often feel like I am the only person who liked this movie, but I found it utterly charming. In this 1960s period piece, Renée Zellweger’s character authors a book extolling the virtues of the single life for women. When a Playboy writer played by Ewan McGregor challenges her views, can she walk the walk she has outlined in her writing?
3. Castle. Nathan Fillion is wonderful as a mystery writer who [insert willing suspension of disbelief here] gets to help solve crime. The series has done such a successful job of selling audiences on fictional fiction writer Richard Castle that the character is himself a New York Times best-selling author. Eat it, literary fiction crafted by MFAs! (Just kidding. I love you, too.) The PR team has gone so far as to send Nathan Fillion to book signings in character. It’s all kind of amazing. There’s a graphic novel now, too!
4. Spaced. This English TV series stars a young Simon Pegg as an aspiring comic book artist with a writer roommate. They really nail what I think is so attractive about writing about writers for TV — you don’t have to show them doing too much writing in order to get the point across. So instead, the characters get to be loveable slackers. (Did you know the Writer’s Block Montage is an actual trope?)
5. I’m trying to keep this recent (so I’m not mentioning The Shining) and literary (so I can’t use Extras, since the authorial trauma there surrounds television writing), which means my final slot goes to The Squid and the Whale, for its fascinating examination of jealousy and pain: Jeff Daniels plays a novelist on the decline, while Laura Linney plays his wife who is just beginning to find publishing success. The far-reaching impact of their own independent crises of faith are the focus.
Some more honourable mentions due to my own constraints: I loved the TV show Dave’s World about the life of a newspaper columnist; I thought Wit dealt brutally fairly with the realities of academic writing and publishing, and I have a soft spot for Finding Forrester even though I know intellectually it was pretty darned bad. And a shoutout to the writers of the kooky, other-worldly finale of Roseanne once upon a time — she was a writer all along! Who knew.
So what did I miss? What must I see? Tell me more titles of films and TV shows about writers!