The Confidence Index: Franzen’s THE CORRECTIONS on HBO
The Confidence Index….in which we assess the chance that an upcoming adaptation of a novel/book/short story/comic will not suck. A score of 10 means we are expecting THE GODFATHER. A score of 1 means…well, did you see Catwoman? 8MXPGR3C4UGA
After several days of rumors that HBO was interested in bringing Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 National Book Award Winner The Corrections to the small screen, the man himself confirmed it during the New Yorker Festival earlier this week. It’s not an obvious pick for HBO; their family dramas come with some serious gimmicks (aka mafia family, family that lives in a funeral home) and The Corrections is pretty straight ahead late 20th-Century upper-middle-class-white-people-problems territory.
Lets walk through this.
The Corrections is tough, complicated, and well-observed. Basically, it is the story of a older man who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and whose wife is determined to bring the family back together for his last Christmas. I know it sounds a little The Family Stone, but more the last 5 minutes of that movie than the first 90. One tricky situation here is that the novel only covers about three months, and the rumor is that HBO wants to turn this into four seasons. My guess is that they do a The Godfather II thing and flesh out the Lamberts (that’s the family) backstory.
Franzen himself is doing the adaption, which means that it’s not going to be sweetened up or rounded off. This is to the good. Only problem I see here is that he’s not a first-rate writer of dialogue, which is so crucial in moving a print story onto a screen. His observational style is not going to translate to film, so the language is going to have to do the heavy lifting.
Scott Rudin and Noah Baumbach are confirmed as having some role, but it is unclear what those roles are exactly. You couldn’t ask for a better producer than Rudin, so there’s no worries there. Baumbach knows his way around Brooklyn family dramas, though it’ll be interesting to see if he can work with someone else’s material.
HBO (along with AMC) does the best work on television. Enough said.
Five major parts: Mr. and Mrs. Lambert with their three adult children. Early rumors are only speculating about Mr. Lambert, with Donald Sutherland, Gene Hackman, and Anthony Hopkins being named specifically. This is the most important role: Alfred Lambert is smart, wounded, and churlish. He needs to be ornery enough for the audience to undertand why his kids my be wary of coming home and yet have a kernel of something that makes the audience want them to come home. Hopkins could do a Hannibal Lecter-like turn in this regard, but it feels too much like his role in Proof. Sutherland doesn’t seem to have the injured pit-bull quality, and Hackman mostly plays versions of Hackman (though a version of Royal Tenenbaum with the quirk turned down and the misanthropy dialed up is interesting). Mrs. Lambert to my mind is less interesting role (Franzen isn’t great with women) and the kids all have enough character that you could pick any range of 20- and 30- something actors and have it work. Like many such adaptations, you get The Don right and you are off and running.
CONFIDENCE INDEX RATING: 7
A-level talent, material, and backing. The novel though doesn’t lend itself to the announced format. Probably better than just watchable, though probably not great.