Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Exception to the Rule

I think most book lovers agree that the experience of reading a book is always greater than the experience of watching that book come to life onscreen. It's a simple reason: when you read, almost everything is left up to your interpretation and imagination. That's always going to be a deeper, more personal engagement than watching someone else's interpretation of the story, with casting of actors who don't look like the characters you envisioned, settings that don't capture the scenes in your head, and shortcuts to the root of the story so that it fits within a standard movie length. Movie adaptations can be enjoyable, however, if you take them for what they are. I enjoyed most of the Harry Potter series, even though they'll never live up to what I see in my head when I read the books. If they're really well-done, some movie adaptations will explore different angles and open up new avenues of thought in a story, and that can be interesting.

But basically, a movie is never greater than the book that comes before it. At least, that's always been my formula:


(I'd put the sign for infinity here, but I don't know how to make that happen on my keyboard.)

There always has to be the exception that proves the rule, though, and after years of believing in the absolutism of the above formula, I finally found one: Julie & Julia, the book written by Julie Powell vs. the movie acted by Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Both are based on Powell's blog about the year she spent re-creating all of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

For the first time ever, I enjoyed the movie more than the book. I attribute this to two things:

1. I dislike Julie Powell. I almost didn't finish the book. She's actually a good writer, but as a memoirist, her personality is clearly on the page, and I didn't like it at all. I liked her even less after reading a second of her books, Cleaving (I know, why did I even try? I'm either a masochist or an eternal book optimist). In that book, she intersperses stories about her learning the butchery trade with stories about her infidelities and crumbling marriage. While I'm not judging her marriage or her morality, I couldn't stand the fact that she hung her husband out to dry by putting all of their most personal problems, and every salacious detail of her affair, out there for the world to read. The whole book was exploitation masquerading as some sort of Eat, Pray, Love-type "journey." But I digress. The point is, I don't like Julie Powell, so I didn't like the book.

2. The movie was SO well done. Streep and Adams were both, of course, genius (and Adams was much more likable than her author) and the script/ directing/ editing were all superb. Plus, half of it was shot against the backdrop of 1950s Paris. How could I not have enjoyed that? The movie took a decent idea, that had spawned a blog, then turned into a ragged book written by a dislikable person, and spun it into gold.

So I finally found an exception that proved the rule. But I stand by my original formula 99.9999% of the time, and I defy anyone to argue with it.

That's right, I defy you. Comments?

1 comment:

  1. I loved that movie. I never read the book because I heard similar reviews. I'm glad I didn't waste my time, I got the feeling I just would have been mad at Julie the whole time I was reading!