This past weekend, I finished Orange Is The New Black (season six). It wasn't my favorite season, but it was still pretty great. I love the diverse cast, the shifting focus of every season, and how Jenji Kohan and crew explore new ways to tell stories with each year. If you didn't know already, Orange Is The New Black was loosely inspired by Piper Kerman's memoir of the same name. I read it back in 2013, after I watched a few episodes of season one. With each chapter, I waited for something exciting to happen, or for Piper to reveal some deeper truth in the way Yoga Jones spoke of the Mandala in the sand. None of that came. There's nothing revolutionary about this memoir. There's a lot revolutionary about the show. So, when people say, "the book is always better than the movie/tv show", I always laugh and ask, "have you read it?"
I'm not saying every film adaptation beats out a book. There are plenty of bad movie adaptations out there. But for every bad adaptation, there's ten film's you love that you didn't even know were adapted. For instance, did anyone know Legally Blonde was a book first? Probably not, because it wasn't quite as fun. Also, anyone who argues that The Devil Wears Prada was better as a book is lying and you all know it. So, if I'm going to run my mouth about this, let me go ahead and prove my point with the examples I've pulled and the explanation behind them.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
When this trilogy (I don't recognize the latest installments, written by another author) came to America, it blew up. People had never read a story quite like this, and Lisbeth Salander was added to the canon of powerful women in literature. I loved these books! The stories and the characters are all so well constructed, it feels like it has to be real. However, as I've gone back through and re-read passages over the years, I've noticed an issue. Whether it's because of the translation or the poor writing of the original, there's a lot of clunky sentences and unnecessary writing. It's the biggest flaw in all three books and can be infuriating to someone who isn't the average reader.
I already know you're about to hate me, but I prefer the English-language, David Fincher adaptation. It's a near perfect film, and I thought the changes made to the story tightened it and kept the suspense of the books in a fresh and exciting way. Plus, you can't deny that Rooney Mara is a perfect depiction of Lisbeth from the books. She understood the character on a psychological level that I couldn't pick up on the Noomi Rapace performance. It still pains me that they didn't shoot the other two parts of the trilogy because I think each one would've just gotten better and better.
The biggest reason I think this works better as a film is that the poor writing is erased (which is also the best part about when people adapt beach reads) and the dialogue is sharper in the film. Plus, let's be real; it's much easier to remember who people are when we can see their faces, and not all of those names were easy to remember.
Carol (The Price of Salt) by Patricia Highsmith
This, for me, is a perfect example of how to create a film that is equal to a masterpiece of literature. There's a specific tone to the novel that would seem almost impossible to capture, especially since Therese is such a peculiar character. Two of the reasons this adaptation works so well are Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. They both understood their characters so well and gave subtle performances that rang so true to the story being told. It's also beautifully shot and the director was spot on with every choice. Sure, we could argue over the interior monologues that fill the book. This is the argument people always make when saying a book is better. "The book gave you more backstory and you understood how they felt in the book from what they were saying." But here's the thing. The more you watch films and read books, the better you become at reading other people. In moments like this, when you watch someone reacting in a certain way to a certain situation, you'll begin to piece together why. That's what's so lovely about the cinema, is everything left unsaid. For some of us, it doesn't have to be. Carol as a film understood everything that didn't need to be said.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Disclaimer: I saw the movie first. I loved it and I thought the acting and direction were perfect. There's always a special place in my heart for Laura Dern. What the film does is show you the toxicity of Cheryl without you having to live in her mind. I'll also own up to my bias, here. I grew up around a bunch of addicts, so anytime I read from the point of view of an addict/ex-addict, it just gets under my skin. It sometimes feels like a pandering, woe-is-me vibe going on, and I just wasn't into it. I've listened to her read and talk about it and that's helped me appreciate the book more, but it's still not my favorite. I also felt that the book could've been edited down quite a bit. There's alot of unnecessary detail. Like I said, this is one where I'm extremely biased, but if you have the same biases I do, and tried reading before seeing the movie, this might be a movie to give a second chance. Also, her novel 'Torch' and her collection of quotes 'Brave Enough', are lovely.
Also, something funny I noticed while writing this blog post. I didn't care for this or Orange Is The New Black, and both were memoirs. Maybe it's a thing about certain memoirs that doesn't sit well with me, who knows. I wrote a little about my bias against memoir in my review of Educated (which I loved) so maybe that has another effect on me.
Those were just a few examples of some books I thought were adapted very well. Now, here's another question I have. Do some types of stories work better in Fiction?
I read The Mars Room recently, which has been getting a lot of comparisons to Orange Is The New Black. I actually really enjoyed The Mars Room. I think the strength of it was that it was a little more aware than Orange Is The New Black (the memoir) and Rachel Kushner could write with a distance Piper Kerman couldn't. Something similar could be said for Torch vs. Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I sometimes think fiction gives you the freedom to have more clarity than you'll allow yourself when you know you're confronting truths about yourself.
These were just a few thoughts I had over the weekend. There are plenty of other books whose movie adaptations I love. If you have any movies you think worked better than their textual counterparts, please let me know! I'd love to discuss. Also, these are just my thoughts and opinions. I know my voice isn't one of authority on these matters haha!