I shamefully admit I belong to the collective who watches movies inspired by books with little intention of reading the story. All these years I have been cheating myself of the opportunity to compare both art forms with a critical lens when I could have long ago joined the ranks of book club elitists who shake their heads in disgust at us loafers. They possess a knowledge of the work’s elements to which we moviegoers are oblivious. Disclaimer: I am not including classical film and plays based on classical literature, which I usually have read first. I am referring mainly to blockbusters based on contemporary literature and novels produced in the past twenty years.
This is a horrible confession from a person who enjoys reading and writing. It is as if for the past two decades, I have traveled through my literary landscape by taking the HOV lane instead of navigating it via the scenic route. It is the equivalent of buying a Spark Notes version of Macbeth before taking a quiz on the play. Alas! there are more complex characters, more colorfully descriptive settings and several relevant scenes that don’t make it to the screen, which forces the movie to be a reductive interpretation of the story, and in many cases, a far cry from the real thing.
Three weeks ago, I attempted a paradigm shift for self-proclaimed movie buffs when I checked out the novel Gone Girl. I saw the movie trailer earlier and couldn’t wait until the opening. Then I discovered the movie was based on a bestseller by Gillian Flynn. I’ll read it first, I said resolutely, and added my name to the waiting list of 76 library patrons. With a list that long, the book must be worth reading, I reasoned.
The book is a whodunit page-turner tracing the dysfunctional relationship of Nick and Amy Dunne. In Part One, we step into their suburban life in Carthage, MO on the morning of their five-year wedding anniversary. Amy is a bored, spoiled neurotic housewife who believes in “till death do us part,” and Nick is her jaded, cynical philandering husband who just wants to be well liked. After five years of one-upping each other’s sarcastic quips, Amy and Nick are too bitter and narcissistic to offer the other partner sympathy, not to mention anything that resembles love. But this changes when Amy vanishes from their home in what looks like a possible kidnapping/murder scheme, leaving Nick to follow a trail of clues that places him as the number one suspect. Suddenly Nick is desperate to repaint the picture of his collapsing marriage to the world or else be branded as a heartless killer and possibly the town’s biggest stereotype.
In fact, this book is chock full of clichés and cheap jabs that had me cringing at times, especially when Amy’s writing turned from diary-talk to wink-wink asides directed toward the reader. There is a part when she even begs the reader to challenge her grammar! Perhaps Flynn’s distracting parenthetical references were an attempt to break away from the traditional formulaic style of most suspense thrillers, but I thought her writing could use a few more rounds of editing. (By the way Flynn, “because” is a conjunction that shouldn’t be prefaced with a comma, wink-wink).
I overcame the novel’s over-the-top banter and awkwardness to appreciate its structure, rhythm and point of view. The chapters are on average 3 pages long and switch back and forth from Amy and Nick’s voices. Flynn takes us on a roller coaster ride that dips into the past, loops back to the present and inches closer to the future with each page turn. Amy and Nick drop hints like bread crumbs to make us feel Sherlocky until we arrive at Part Three and realize we got much more than we bargained.
Gone Girl — the movie stays true to the original plot although the characters are less authentic. For some reason, I expected Desi to have black hair and speak with a European accent, Tanner Bolt to be white instead of black, Officer Boney to be uglier and less feminine and Marybeth to look more like a tree-hugger than a first lady. The characterization shouldn’t surprise me, though. Everyone was quirky in the book, so why should the movie be any different? I found most of the characters self-centered, crude, or crazy, making it difficult to sympathize with any of them. Nonetheless, the actors stuck to the script, mirroring each punch line from the book to a tee, which categorized the onscreen version as more of a dark comedy than a murder mystery.
I give Gone Girl a B- and Gone-Girl — the movie a C+. Now, what would I have graded one if I had not seen the other? This is the problem of comparative analysis. Can both be equally successful? Probably so, but rarely have you found a movie out doing its predecessor. Flynn rewrote the ending for the movie version, and after watching it, I suspect there will be a Gone Girl sequel. Which is fine by me as a new-found critic. I’m just warming up.
Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and produced by Regency Enterprises, is rated R.