Movies: Writers on the Big Screen

Writers are, of course, always involved in movies. That does not mean that they are always IN movies. Over the years they have found their way onto the big screen in roles both big and small (not necessarily authors themselves, but writers as characters), but there are two movies in particular from the previous decade that are my all time favorites: Stranger Than Fiction and Finding Forrester.

As a precursor to my review of this Stranger Than Fiction, I have to admit that I was not a Will Ferrell fan before this movie. In small doses in some of his SNL stuff, I found him funny, but his movies were mostly over-the-top for my tastes. I can’t remember when or why I first watched this film, but I fell in love with it almost as soon as it started. Will Ferrell is supported by a brilliant cast including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson, but it was Ferrell’s acting that impressed me the most. His character, Harold Crick, is sympathetic, vulnerable, intelligent, reserved, slightly awkward, and totally lovable. By the end of the movie you’re rooting for him to overcome everything. How does this relate to writing? Because Harold Crick suddenly starts hearing a woman’s voice narrating his life and eventually realizes that he is a character in a book. At first he’s willing to accept this in a general sort of way, but then the narrator says, “Little did he know that this simple seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.” He goes on a search for answers and meets a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) who helps him do two things–1) realize he needs to start making his life the one he’s always wanted and 2) figure out who his author is. Eventually he comes face to face with his author, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), and her assistant Penny Escher (Queen Latifah). As you can imagine, the author is completely shell shocked to realize that her character is a living breathing human being. Throughout Harold’s struggle with his possible insanity, you follow Karen through her struggle with writer’s block as she searches for the perfect death for Harold Crick. She talks about inspiration and writing with her publisher-hired spy/assistant Penny and you can see in the two characters the opposing views of creativity. Penny supports the structured use of prompts and museums as sources of inspiration while Karen believes “anything worth writing” comes “inexplicably and without method.” Overall, this movie is a beautiful look at creativity, truth, authenticity, love, writing, writers, literature, cookies, and men’s fashion accessories. šŸ˜‰

Sean Connery is brilliant. The first movie I ever remember seeing him in is Indian Jones and the Last Crusade in which he played the father to Harrison Ford’s Henry “Indiana” Jones. This is another one that I can’t remember how I first watched it, but like Stranger Than Fiction, I fell in love immediately. The debut role for Rob Brown who plays inner city kid Jamal Wallace, this movie depicts the story of a young man wasting his potential and an older man hiding away from his past and the world. Sean Connery is reclusive William Forrester who has lived in New York since his teenage years. He watched from his window (earning him the nickname “The Window” from the local kids) as the neighborhood he grew up in deteriorated around him. He seems content to live out his life in his apartment, but then Jamal’s friends dare him to climb into The Window’s apartment and bring something back as proof. William startles Jamal during his examination of the rooms and Jamal retreats quickly, leaving his backpack behind. Soon after, Jamal sees the backpack hanging out the window and retrieves it, noticing only after he gets home that William has edited all of the writing in Jamal’s numerous notebooks. Intrigued, partially because Jamal has never shown his writing to anyone, he returns to the apartment. At first the two exist in an uneasy truce, but eventually Jamal convinces William to become his mentor. What he doesn’t know at first is that William Forrester is the author of what many consider the great American novel of our century. Simultaneously, Jamal’s intelligence has been uncovered by the world at large in the form of standardized test scores. These scores are high enough to attract the attention of an exclusive private school which accepts Jamal on an academic scholarship. Once there, however, Jamal has to battle the preconceived notions of what he should be capable of achieving and figure out how much he is willing to risk to stand up and fight for what he knows is right. Beautifully tied together and wonderfully acted, this movie also features a young Anna Paquin as Claire Spence, one of Jamal’s school mates (and eventual love interest). This film covers a broad range of writing related topics including inspiration, expectations, criticism, and whether it’s better to write for yourself or for the world.

The point of this rambling post? If you’re a writer or even just a devoted reader, you can’t miss these movies.

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