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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Movies I Wish Were Young Adult Books

Normally the plea from readers of YA fiction is for their favourite books to be adapted to film. And lately, there have been some really great books-to-movie adaptations. The Spectacular Now and Hunger Games spring to mind, and as the filming edges ever closer I’m increasingly excited for ‘On the Jellicoe Road’. 

But I’m going to look at this from the other direction. Movies that I absolutely love, and after watching I scurried onto with crossed-fingers to see if maybe, hopefully the film was based on a book and I could continue my obsession. Sadly, none of these films sprung from YA fiction – but, dammit, I wish they did!


Elvis and Anabelle (2007) – Anabelle (Blake Lively) is a small-town beauty queen destined for great things, until she drops dead on stage. Elvis (Max Minghella) is the son of the local funeral director who is caring for his ailing dad and quietly running the business. Anabelle winds up on Elvis’s embalming table . . . and is miraculously resurrected. Now she’s the beauty queen back from the dead, Oprah wants to talk to her! But her death experience has Anabelle looking at the world differently, and only Elvis seems to understand. 

I love this movie. I was not a fan of ‘Gossip Girl’ or Blake Lively for a long time, until this movie. It’s not actually as wacky as it sounds, it’s just really beautiful film that, if it had been based on a book, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that A.S. King or Libba Bray wrote it for the blend of magical realism and gritty coming-of-age. 


Brick (2005) – Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the voluntary outcast at his high school. He’s happy on the sidelines, observing and often provoking fellow classmates. But when his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) turns up dead, he puts his watching and prying to good use by immersing himself in the school’s crime underbelly that got Emily killed. 

You guys. YOU GUYS. This is the film that was my ‘aha!’ moment about Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Before this I was like “Oh, yeah, the guy who wasn’t Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. And wasn’t he in 3rd Rock from the Sun?” Now, of course, everyone knows how amazing he is and he can wear the heck out of a three-piece suit

After watching ‘Brick’ I also spoke in gum-shoe, Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler slang for a few days because Rian Johnson evoked old-school noir in a contemporary California high school setting and it’s sheer feakin’ genius! I don’t know which young adult authors would be a good counterpart to ‘Brick’ – perhaps Daniel Handler (Lemony Snickett) because ‘All The Wrong Questions: Who Could That Be at This Hour?’ has that young noir feel to it, but not nearly as gritty.  


Moonlight Mile (2002) – Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal) was engaged to a young woman and they returned to her home town before the wedding. Then she was killed. Wrong place, wrong time, caught up in a domestic dispute she had nothing to do with. Now Joe is caught in a strange in-between with his would-be bride’s parents Ben (Dustin Hoffman) and Jojo (Susan Sarandon). Living in their house after the funeral as they proceed with a court case against her killer, Ben still expects Joe to join the family practice, and Jojo is on a constant knife-edge between anger, sadness, and acceptance. Then Joe meets the local postal clerk and bar-owner Bertie (Ellen Pompeo) and his living in limbo after his fiancée’s death gets even more complicated.

‘Moonlight Mile’ is one of my all-time favourite movies that I totally just stumbled across. The title comes from a fantastic Rolling Stones song, and the story behind writer/director Brad Silberling’s inspiration for the film is an extremely sad one. Silberling was dating actress Rebecca Schaeffer before she was shot to death by a crazed fan at the age of 21, and this film is inspired by his own experiences of being the boyfriend and weirdly immersed in her family life and court drama after her death. 

The story is a heartbreaking one, but the movie has so many surprisingly funny and tender moments and extraordinary performances from Gyllenhaal, Hoffman, Sarandon and Pompeo. There are also many little touches in the film that just kill me – like Jojo wearing all of her daughter’s old watches. I always cry buckets in this film, but I laugh just as much too. And the Bertie/Joe romance sounds like it should be crass and not work at all – but it’s a little bit brilliant. Holly Hunter also stars as the family’s lawyer, and I love everything about Holly Hunter.

Because the story is so immersed in Brad Silberling’s own personal history, I can’t really think of a YA-equivalent author. But ‘Moonlight Mile’ feels very New Adult, so maybe it’s a little Trish Doller-esque? 

Now and Then (1995) – A woman (Demi Moore) returns to her old hometown for the birth of her best friend’s baby. But being home brings up old memories, like summer of 1970 when she and her three friends were 12-years-old and everything changed.

An oldie, but a goodie. This film has everyone in it – Demi Moore, Christina Ricci, Janeane Garofalo, Gaby Hoffman, Thora Birch, Melanie Griffith, Rosie O’Donnell whatever-happened-to-Devon-Sawa and Rita Wilson. This movie introduced me to Converse shoes and pedal-pushers, and I desperately wanted Coke bottles to come out in glass after watching the movie. I just loved it. I'd seen Stephen King’s Stand By Me and afterwards I'd always think that ‘Now and Then’ was sort of the girl-equivalent to that all-boy story. 

The 70’s setting is really what makes this film – everything is happening, from Vietnam to the sexual revolution and it’s all on the periphery of these girl’s lives as they live in a well-to-do gated community, the happenings of the outside world are beautifully backgrounded. I’m reading Gary D. Schmidt’s ‘Okay For Now’ right now, and it’s set in 1968 and he brilliantly weaves that era into the narrative – from a brother in Vietnam, to the impending moon landing. It’s all on the periphery, but eventually starts creeping in and shaping this young man’s life and I just love how Schmidt leaves things out and chooses to include big historic events.

All I Wanna Do (1998) – also known as ‘Strike!’ and ‘The Hairy Bird’, this movie is set in the 60’s and follows Odette (Gabby Hoffman) as she’s shipped to an all-girls boarding school after being caught attempting sex with her boyfriend. Once there, she tries every conceivable way to run back to her beau and finish the deed, but when Miss Godard's Preparatory School for Girls makes the decision to go co-ed, she gets caught up in her roommate’s rivalries as they’re split between the girls who welcome St. Ambrose boys' academy and those who see it as a misogynistic slap in the face.

I LOVE this movie. I went to an all-girl high school, and in about Year 10 our ‘brother’ school went co-ed and didn’t need us anymore. So it was very on-the-pulse for me. But more than that I loved the 1960’s setting and the glass-ceiling hot-button topicality of it. The film also stars Kirsten Dunst and Rachael Leigh Cook, both of whom I've always adored, and Gabby Hoffman (from aforementioned ‘Now and Then’ fame – who I pretty much wanted to be besties with). It also includes the single best line in cinematic history: “Up your ziggy with a wa-wa brush!”

Now, this movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colours (weeeeell – apart from many discussions about boys). It’s inspiring and chest-thumpingly feminist and I cheered all the way through it. And for that very reason, it’s gotta be ‘The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks’ by E. Lockhart as a YA-equivalent. That book is all about notorious Frankie Landau-Banks getting one-over on her male classmates when she infiltrates their secret all-boy society and becomes their puppet master. 


Saved (2004) – Mary (Jena Malone) happily attends her Christian High School, but is shocked when her Christian boyfriend tells her he’s gay. A sign from God tells her to lose her virginity to him, and try to set him on the right path . . . .but he still gets sent to a reform camp, and Mary ends up pregnant. 

Love, love, love this movie. Probably my favourite ever Macaulay Culkin film, he plays the wheelchair-bound sarcastic brother to the school’s über-Christian princess, Hilary (Mandy Moore) who just wants to try and save her old best friend from hell and damnation. 

It’s a hilarious movie with a strong message about intolerance, love and acceptance. And I can’t get Gab William’s ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’ out of my head as a kind of equivalent, for the way she examines modern faith. 


The Kings of Summer (2013) – in an act of brilliant teenage rebellion, friends Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) plus creepy hanger-on Biaggio (Moises Arias) decide to flee their nagging, narcissistic parents and build their own house in the Ohio woods.

This film stars Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) as Joe’s dad – which is reason in itself to watch. But apart from that, the movie totally freakin’ rocks! It’s shot beautifully and makes me want to visit Ohio, and even though it’s a “boy” movie (yeah, it fails the Bechdel test) this trio are actually really interesting and heartening. A lot is happening that sends these boys to the woods – the death of Joe’s mother and his father moving on, Patrick’s clingy parents and Biaggio is just the carefree uninhibited oddball tagging along to belong. I love that their motivation to break away from the pressures of life and family is to build a home of their own and I love how nature intersects with their coming-of-age. 

There’s something about Joe that reminded me of Sutter from Tim Tharp’s ‘The Spectacular Now’, though a lot less confident. But the story also feels like it could be Matthew Quick for some reason.

1 comment:

  1. The only movie I have seen in this list, little lone heard of, is Now and Then. I'll have to keep my eye out for the others :)


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