Who would you have star in the latest unfilmable novel?
Reading Girl on the Train, I immediately started imagining who would play the characters when it inevitably becomes a film. We all do this, and we all do a lousy job, but that’s part of what makes the exercise such harmless fun. I remember a childhood conversation, before Spider-Man had been filmed, two incarnations ago. We were wondering who would play Gwen Stacey, and my friend Matt ventured “Streep?” Streep?! Never mind that she was even then too old to play a kid, was Meryl Streep ever a teenager? Hell, she was a haunted angel in The Seduction of Joe Tynan.
Since Girl on the Train has been hyped as the next Gone Girl (they’re both girls!), I immediately cast Ben Affleck as Tom, the ex-husband of the titular Girl, which makes no sense. Then I went with Aaron Eckhart. I can’t explain why without divulging spoilers. All right, I’ll tell you. Tom gets half his face melted off and becomes a criminal supervillain.
I cast Jeanne Tripplehorn as Rachel, even though Hollywood hasn’t given her a leading role since she turned twenty-four. I don’t care; I think she could play Rachel’s hazed-out desperation, based on her work in The Firm, I guess. Okay, it was Waterworld. That’s the miracle of movies: a viewer can hold on to the memory of a performance long after Tinseltown has chewed the performer up and spat her out.
Realizing this, I tried to second-guess what Hollywood would actually do and came up with . . . Jennifer Lawrence, based on her crazy-eyed work in American Hustle and the fact that the answer to every question about actresses is Jennifer Lawrence. Googled to see who’s actually going to be playing the role for the film already in development and it’s . . . Deanna Durbin? No, wait, that was the 1945 production of Lady on a Train. The Girl train is on track(!) to be an Emily Blunt project.
So I’m no good at casting movies that are going to be films soon. What about movies that will never be made into films? Surely I can do better there.
Granted, they’ve actually tried to film a lot of unfilmable books, for example Naked Lunch; Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, putatively based on The Orchid Thief; and Howl (casting James Franco for your unfilmable movie is a cop-out). Maybe those books are just screaming (or Howling! By the way, The Howling franchise is the strangest movie adaptation of Ginsberg’s poem, and didn’t get enough credit when Franco’s movie came out) for some ambitious director to film them, because of their very unfilmability, but there are other books which aren’t throwing down a gauntlet but are just unfilmable because they exist in worlds of the mind.
If you had to keep checking the title page to confirm that The Dog was written by the same Joseph O’Neill who wrote Netherland, you were not alone. While Netherland earned accolades and comparisons to Gatsby for its pulsing and earnest depiction of a first-world striver as witnessed by the narrator, The Dog is a satirical stream-of-consciousness spree from the mind of an unnamed lawyer living and thinking in detachment in the sterile confines of Dubai skyscrapers. He lays out a system of personal rules and rationales as a plot gently bumps into him from time to time and then suddenly catches up to him. It’s so much about the character and his disassociated embrace of the seemingly dehumanizing aspects of humanity that it reminds me of Up in the Air, which, damn it, they turned into a halfway decent movie! Still, I’m not casting Clooney.
I want to cast Aaron Eckhart, but isn’t that just because I was talking about him before? How about Ben Affleck? No! Clear the mind. Who is a chilly intellectual type who seems somewhat removed from his moral code, but not? Jessie Eisenberg’s too young, but that’s what I thought about Jeanne Tripplehorn. No, let’s go with . . . Michael Shannon!
Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist is just a guy ruminating about poetry. There are other Baker books that would make for visually stimulating cinema, but not this one. Oh, let’s just get Gene Hackman out of retirement. Tell him it’s not a cop, see if he bites.
There But For The by Ali Smith is actually quite filmable. Take out all the postmodern experimentalism and you’ve got a zany story with multiple points of view, something movies don’t actually do all that well but that they do all the time. Still, it’s got a weird title and a gay protagonist and I think that will put the financial backers off. So I’m going to cast it and come up with a new Hollywood-friendly title. Let’s cast Mr. Robot’s Elliot Alderson as young Miles Garth, Michael Shannon as grown Garth, Jeanne Tripplehorn as older Anna, Chloë Grace Moretz as young Anna, Susan Sarandon as the demented May Young (even though she is still beautiful and should still be starring in romantic dramas, but Hollywood sucks and I do like to see her in movies), and an unknown as Brooke, the kid. Call it Grace of God, make Miles Garth straight, have love conquer all, and make it an ongoing series on Netflix. It’s probably already in development with Emily Blunt.
Or you could just read the book and cast it yourself.