romantic comedy, via Billy Mernit

I’ve fallen behind with weblog reading. Really behind. Even the weblogs I love best. Billy Mernit has been going great guns without me, which makes me feel … I dunno. Frantic to catch up, maybe. It’s like finding out that you were sitting outside in the hallway while [your favorite musician] was in the auditorium playing her heart out, but you just couldn’t get your algebra homework done in time to go in.

Or something. So maybe that’s reaching a little far, okay. What can I say? Romantic comedy types tend to big gestures.

[asa book]0307395375[/asa]So Billy Mernit is the master of the romantic comedy film (if you don’t want to take my word for it, go over there and read the blog); and now he’s got a novel coming out. I’m looking forward to it and I’m dreading it. I’ll read it the minute it comes out. I hope I love it. I hope I hate it. No, I really do want to love it. But think about this: people jump through hoops to get Billy Mernit to read and comment on their rom com scripts, and now I’ll be paying to read his novel.

Really, I’m thrilled for him. Of course. But does he have to be good at everything?

Those of you who have been around here for a long time may remember that I wrote a screenplay with my friend Suz (mentioned recently), a romantic comedy set in Chicago and Italy in the early sixties. We had huge fun doing it. Good Neighbor Bob (the X-Files producer, I’ve mentioned him before) read it and said two things: (1) it’s hysterical and (2) you’ll never get an American film company to do it.

What about Chocolat? We asked. Set in rural France. A quasi rom-com. Did well at the box office.

Financed and made in Europe, said he.

So it sits in a drawer. We look at it now and then and think of turning it into a novel, because while Billy Mernit doesn’t have any trouble getting people to look at his screenplays, I can usually get people to look at my novels.

Now, about his top ten post-war romantic comedies. Here they are. I’ve crossed off the ones I don’t agree with:
The Apartment; The Graduate; Annie Hall (alternate: Manhattan); Tootsie; Moonstruck; Say Anything (alt: Jerry Maguire); When Harry Met Sally; Groundhog Day; Four Weddings and a Funeral (alt: Notting Hill); A Fish Called Wanda. (alt: There’s Something About Mary)

So we only agree on about half of the ten. Here is my list, reordered, with replacements: When Harry Met Sally, Groundhog Day, Annie Hall, Moonstruck, Bull Durham, Say Anything, Stranger than Fiction, Impromtu, Purple Rose of Cairo, While You Were Sleeping.

And now for something a little different: Continue reading “romantic comedy, via Billy Mernit”

Miss Pettigrew’s bodice

[asa book]190646202X[/asa] There’s an article in PW about the revival of interest in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a novel first published in 1938, reissued by Persephone Books in 2000 and about to be reissued again. It was also made into a movie starring Frances MacDormand.

There are many very good things to celebrate about all this,. To start with the publisher:

Persephone Books reprints forgotten classics by twentieth-century (mostly women) writers. Each one in our collection of seventy-five books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written, and most are ideal presents or a good choice for reading groups.

The books are beautifully edited and produced, from the period-appropriate cover art to the quality of the paper. Persephone was started by Nicola Beauman nine years ago but Miss Pettigrew is the first of the list of seventy-five to really take off, which certainly has something to do with the movie release. The story is, in a word, wonderful, and the film does it justice.

People like to talk about the madcap movies of the 30s with great affection and nostalgia, when in fact many of those films haven’t aged well. Miss Pettigrew, lost to obscurity for more than fifty years until Ms Beauman brought her back to life (and Stephen Garrett produced the film), is everything such stories are supposed to be: stylish, witty, laugh-out-loud funny, with an underlying thoughtfulness you can ignore if you’re so inclined. In this case, the contrast between those who lived through and survived WWI with those who are rushing blithely toward WWII.

Another good thing: Persephone Books are just now starting to be distributed in the States. The company was founded as a primarily mail-order establishment, but has grown into something bigger. For my own part, I’m hoping they might have a look at The Moonflower Vine, another truly excellent, out of print and forgotten novel written by a woman who went unnoticed for most of her life. (More on Jetta Carleton’s Moonflower Vine here).

And now the bad. As I began to write this post I was angry, and I’m angrier now than ever. This has nothing to do with Persephone or Miss Pettigrew. It has to do with the author, Winifred Watson. Or more exactly, it has to do with the way she is presented to the world by some outlets.

Winifred Watson, 2000Watson was born in 1906, into a very well to do family in the north of England that fell on hard times during the Depression, when she went to work as a typist. Watson’s obituary in The Independent tells the story of how she turned to writing and made a success of it, and why she gave it up. When Persephone Books reissued Miss Pettigrew in 2000 Ms Watson was still alive, and the book’s success shone a light on a surprised but gratified ninety-four year old. ((A more recent article in Chronicle Live notes that the film of Miss Pettigrew came too late for its author. ))

These and other obituaries and articles about the Watson’s rediscovery draw a picture of a woman who led a full life, someone of great character. Someone with a sense of the absurd, a keen understanding of human foibles, and a wicked sense of humor not stifled out of existence by social conventions. I certainly would be interested in knowing more about her. Which is how I stumbled on Anna Sebba‘s article dated November 13, 2000 in The Times. The title:

Bodice-ripping fame at 94

First, please note that I only found this article because its title was included in the Amazon.com information for Miss Pettigrew. And that’s all that was included. From the original interview by Sebba:

Winifred Watson has just been rediscovered – at the age of 94. But she thinks she may be just a little too old for the celebrity circus that she has suddenly been plunged into.

“Well, it’s rather nice, and most heart-warming,” says the Newcastle author, who was famous once before, in the 1930s. “But it’s not the same as when you’re young. I’ve got past all that being excited.”

Watson had six novels published between 1935 and 1943, mostly bodice-ripping rustic sagas about life in the North East – long before Catherine Cookson had published a word.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this makes me so angry. Here we’ve got one interviewer, a woman. She’s got the chance to sit down with someone who survived two world wars, who wrote six novels and then went on to raise a family, who has reached ninety-four years of age. And what does the reporter do with this opportunity? She reduces that woman’s work and trivializes it with that most overused, cliched catch-all, bodice ripper. A term that has no equal in terms of negative literary connotations. A term that encourages the reader to dismiss the book in question with a snicker without reading a single page. You know what this is about, is what that term says. It’s tawdry and silly and it’s below you. Do not bother.

All six novels, dispatched with one stroke.

Here’s a question: did Watson even write romances? And another: What does that have to do with anything at all? Does it matter what you call her novels?

I’ll tell you what matters to me: that (especially) a female journalist show respect and thoughtfulness in an interview with one of the women who struggled to be published in a far more difficult era. That she not trivialize books she has mostly likely never even read. And if she has read them, and if Ms Watson herself declared them romances, that she not delegate them to the literary trashbin with a careless flick of the finger. Jane Austen wrote romances, too. And Ms Watson deserved better.

Shame on Anna Sebba and shame on her editors at The Times.

good things ahead

Edited to add: HOW DID I MISS THIS?

The Accidental Husband with Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Determined to start off the New Year with some positive thoughts, and so here are a few movies I’m really looking forward to:

27 Dresses

Maid of Honor

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day 

You’ll notice that these are all romantic comedies. There are some other movies coming 2008 that look great, but forget the serious stuff for now. Do you know of any other promising romantic comedies coming up, in film or novel** form? Have you heard of these three? 

**Let us not forget The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square, because they will not forget you.

 

romantic comedy gone sadly off track

[asa book]B000YAA68C[/asa] I haven’t posted about any movies lately, and I think that’s mostly because I haven’t seen many I either loved or hated. There are a few I can recommend: Amazing Grace (though the timing is off at places); the third Bourne movie (what can I say? I like it rough at times.)

Just recently I saw PS I Love You with the Girlchild. I really wanted to love this movie, but as is so often the case with romantic comedy, it falls apart very quickly. Some romantic comedies keep falling when you think there’s no lower they could go. Maid in Manhattan was one of those stinkers. I could name quite a few. But that’s not the case with PS I Love You.

There are some great, great scenes in this movie. I will rent the damn thing just to watch those scenes a couple times. If I had the know-how, I’d re-edit the whole thing because someplace inside the tossed salad that is supposed to be a narrative thread, the best bits got stampeded into the dust or just plain lost.

Who makes these decisions? I know it’s based on a novel, but somebody wrote the screenplay, and then somebody directed it, and still somebody else edited all the scenes together. Who made the series of bad decisions that ruined what could have been a really good movie?

The actors worked so damn hard to keep the thing afloat, but they only succeed in short spurts. Gerard Butler and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are perfectly cast as the good-guy love interests. Scruffy, manly, with killer smiles and gentle ways that can turn oh so devastating when they get up close and personal.

Somebody made the decision to start this movie with an overly long scene between the two primary characters, Holly (Hillary Swank) and her husband of some nine years, Gerry Kennedy (Butler). It’s not an easy scene to pull off because the idea seems to be to front-load all the conflicts, as if getting this out of the way will make the rest of the movie cheery and fun.

But then the husband is suddenly dead of a brain tumor, and from there things drag along while he tries to help her from beyond the grave (by means of letters) to move past her grief. It’s during this long process that we get some great but all too short scenes, but the worst sin is this: we’re three quarters of the way through the damn movie before we see Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s very, very nice, very naked back side.

Okay, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that it’s not until this late in the movie that we see how Gerry and Holly met. If we had had that up front, we would have all loved Gerry as much as Holly did and we would have understood the depth of her grief. But no. They had to feed us the important stuff in stingy little bites and string them out until the only possible response is to howl with disappointment.

One of the big problems, I think, is that the cast is too big. Holly’s mom and sister and her mom’s bartender (a love-struck, morose Harry Connick Jr.), her best friends plus their husbands and/or significant others…. when really what was needed was more focus on Holly and Gerry and then Holly and WIlliam. I, personally, needed a whole hell of a lot more of William.

I don’t know enough about the film industry to figure out who messed up so badly, but I can say it wasn’t any of the major players. And I can say that if I were one of them, I’d be unhappy about what happened once the film went to editing.