Writers in movies: Stuck in Love

Another in a random series.

Stuck in Love is a pleasant indie movie from 2012 starring Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly.  Here’s the IMDB summary:

An acclaimed writer, his ex-wife, and their teenaged children come to terms with the complexities of love in all its forms over the course of one tumultuous year.

What the summary leaves out is that both the kids are writers (or would-be writers) as well — the father (Kinnear) is determined to make them novelists like him.  So we’re given a whole family full of writers, which is a recipe for dysfunction and angst if I ever heard one.

The writer/director, Josh Boone, drops quotes from Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor into the script and clearly has a sympathetic sense of the writing life.  Here’s something he gets right: The movie begins with Kinnear preparing Thanksgiving dinner for his son, who is in high school, and daughter, who home from college.  At dinner the daughter drops the news that her novel has been accepted by a major publisher.  The predictable result is that dinner is ruined.  The father is upset that she abandoned the novel he has helped edit and written an entirely different book over the summer; the brother is so jealous of her success that he can’t be at the same table with her.  Writers are just awful!

Here’s what Boone gets wrong: The daughter writes a novel over the summer, sends it to her agent, who submits it anonymously and gets it accepted by a major publisher, and page proofs are ready by Thanksgiving?  Really?  In what universe?  (I’m into the fifteenth month of working on my current novel, so I may be feeling especially grumpy about this part.)

The father has written two successful literary novels, but has had writer’s block since his wife left him.  The writer’s block is reasonable; I’d be pretty upset if Jennifer Connelly dumped me.  But, with no other apparent income, he still manages to live in a gorgeous ocean-front house and pay his daughter’s tuition to college.  How does that work?

Later in the movie, the son writes an SF short story, which his sister gets hold of.  Then what?  Without telling the brother, the sister sends it to Stephen King, who loves it so much he gets it published in a major SF magazine and calls the kid to let him know.  Of course.  Happens all the time.  (I remember the stories I wrote when I was in high school; just thinking about them makes me cringe.)

In other words, this is a typical movie world, where success comes too easily and is rewarded too much; love is what’s hard.  It makes me appreciate the world of The Wordsin which the writer is talented and hard-working, pours his soul into his novel, and gets exactly nowhere.  That’s a lot more like the real writing life.

Writers in moves: Leave Her to Heaven

This is my second offering in this series.

Leave Her to Heaven was a popular film noir (beautifully filmed in Technicolor, actually) from 1945.  Here is IMDB’s summary:

A writer meets a young socialite on board a train. The two fall in love and are married soon after, but her obsessive love for him threatens to be the undoing of both them and everyone else around them.

Gene Tierney is the psychopathic socialite; Cornel Wilde is the writer.  The premise is fine, and Gene Tierney is great (and gorgeous).  The problem I had with the movie was that the Cornell Wilde character is a complete drip, and Cornell Wilde isn’t enough of an actor to make us care about him.

The fact that the main character is a writer is of little significance to the plot.  It mainly allows Wilde and Tierney to meet cute — he sees her reading his novel on a train.  This lets him quote a line from the novel to her:

When I looked at you, exotic words drifted across the mirror of my mind like clouds across the summer sky.

Oh, dear.  I’m pretty sure it’s always a mistake to quote from a fictional writer’s work in a movie.

(As an aside, on a plane once I sat across from a woman  who was reading something I had written — not one of my novels, alas, but a work-for-hire I had perpetrated for a high-tech company.  When I mentioned the coincidence to her as we deplaned, she was signally uninterested.  At least she wasn’t a psychopath.  I think.)

After the train scene, we just see Wilde occasionally pecking away at an old-fashioned manual typewriter, always wearing a writerly jacket and tie. There is no discussion of the creative process; there is no angst over deadlines; he finishes the book, and one day a copy arrives in the mail.  Writing novels is just what he does, because he comes from Boston, don’t you know, and went to Harvard.

I’ll just add that the trial sequence, featuring Vincent Price as the DA who was also Gene Tierney’s scorned lover, is about as over-the-top ridiculous as anything I’ve seen recently.

Want to see a Shakespeare play in ten minutes?

. . . without all the annoying Shakespearean verbiage that slows down most productions of his plays?

Of course you do.  So you want to see early silent movies of Shakespeare plays.  Here is an 11-minute Tempest from 1908 that features special effects like Ariel disappearing:

And here is a hand-tinted King Lear from Italy in 1910:

It lasts 16 minutes, but King Lear is pretty complicated (even without the Edmund/Edgar subplot).

If you’re like me (and who isn’t?) you love this kind of stuff.  And you probably also love the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which gets Shakespeare done quickly, even if they have to use words.

If “Love Actually” is so bad, why do I have to watch it every year?

My lovely wife was getting nervous as Christmas approached: Love Actually wasn’t available on Netflix streaming or Verizon on-demand. So finally we had to buy the DVD from Amazon (with faster shipping to make sure it arrived before Christmas).  This means we need never worry that we’ll be without Love Actually when we need it.  Phew.

The thing is, every year her complaints about the movie increase.  Every year she notices more implausibilities and other assorted irritants to raise her ire.  Here are a few.  (I left out many more in the interest of brevity.)

  • Why can’t any of the men in this picture close the deal with the woman they want? ? Even Claudia Schiffer can’t make Liam Neeson ask for a playdate, coffee date, anything?  A porn star stand-in can’t ask out a costar?  Mr. Underpants can’t ask out Laura Linney in 2 years, 7 months?  Colin the caterer is the only one who can open his mouth and flirt with a woman.
  • Why don’t most characters wear warm clothing outdoors? 
  • Why would Keira Knightley’s wedding video be ruined?  A pro uses two cameras.
  • Why was the prime minister home alone on Christmas eve?  Why couldn’t he get the address of a recent employee by phone?
  • What’s up with the all the fat jokes?  Natalie, Aurelia’s sister, “my fat manager,” and so on. Is it a feel-good movie or what?

None of these problems keep her from watching, though. Because, you know, Hugh Grant.  And, especially, Bill Nighy.  Here is a writer in Salon making the case that Love Actually is the worst Christmas movie ever.  She calls it “demoralizing, misogynistic holiday twaddle.”  I dunno.  I guess I’ll have to see it a few more times to decide if I agree.