Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Paperboy: The Book vs. The Movie

I'm thrilled to say that on a recent vacation to Florida I read a book. It wasn't assigned to me by an English teacher, I didn't do it to maintain my status in a book club, I didn't see the movie first, and it wasn't a really hook-laden thriller, comedy book, or hot cultural buzz item of the moment (ie Hunger Games, Da Vinci code both of which I read).
The book was The Paperboy which recently was released as a film under the screenplay and direction of Lee Daniels (Precious) and having seen both I'll discuss the differences BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD:

1. Jack is emotionally catatonic in the book-Jack is never particularly outward with his emotions as the narrator. His highs aren't particularly high and his lows aren't particularly low. Having just been expelled from college, he's somewhat numb: Thoughts of returning to college don't interest him, he's somewhat blank to what he wants to do in life; aside from an abstract attraction to Charlotte, he's not particularly interested in sex and socializing; and aside from his brother and a passing hint of attachment to his dad and housekeeper, he's fairly uninterested in people.

In the movie, any actor with a working pulse would be livelier than the description of Jack in the book. Enter smiley, bubbly Zac Efron from High School Musical and Jack's depression suddenly seems a lot less acute.
Verdict: The movie. It's probably too much to expect Zac Efron to go full Jennifer Anniston in "The Good Girl" and I am not sure that I would've wanted him to either. The story was about a kid who was lost in the world but it wasn't really about a kid who was entirely emotionless.
It was nice to see Jack smile in moderation.

2. In the book, Jack doesn't necessarily have sex with Charlotte, Jack doesn't confront Charlotte over Yardley, and Charlotte doesn't directly discuss with Jack her having sex with him-
In the book, Jack is so distraught after Ward's beating that Charlotte rocks her and "holds him in her arms" all night or something like that. It's kind of vague but more to the point, Jack doesn't run around the next morning feeling like a changed man because he got lucky the night before with the woman he's been longing for. His thoughts are mostly with his brother and everything else seems like a blur. In the book, Jack is sexually awakened by Charlotte but longs for her in an abstract sense. He is more distraught by the idea of the wrong man having her instead (i.e. Hillary van Wetter, Yardley) and is too shy or disinterested to confront Charlotte directly about her dalliance with Yardley. In the book as in the movie, Charlotte tells Jack that he needs to get laid. In the book, however, Charlotte and Jack never approach the topic over whether she'd be the one he should get laid with.

Verdict: On all three counts, the book.  The did-they-or- didn't-they dynamic would have given viewers something to talk about and better reflects the rich emotional space of Jack's head. Getting the girl of his dreams and it barely registering with him is an effective way to illustrate just how devastated he was with Ward's beating. It's also better that Jack did not have either of those conversations directly with Charlotte. Addition by subtraction.

3. Charlotte pees on Jack-This wouldn't be a major deal except for the fact that this film is now known as "the one where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron" and speculation over whether the scene was real (answer: yes, Nicole Kidman is a method actress even when its gross) dominates discussion of the film. In the book, it's some nursing students who save Ward's life. In the film, the fact that they are nursing students, who first try some non-peeing methods of recovery on Jack, is omitted.
Verdict-Score one for the movie-It would have been helpful to know that the girls who initiate the peeing incident are nursing students because otherwise that gives the impression that everyone knows that peeing is the cure for jelleyfish stings. On the whole, however, it is an improvement because Jack and Charlotte were subconsciously really wanting to exchange some bodily fluids with each other anyways.

4. The entrance of Ellen Guthrie in the story-In the movie, Ellen Guthrie is Jack's father's ladyfriend and subordinate and eventually becomes his wife and co-editor of the newspaper. There's not really much more to it then that in the film.
In the book, Ellen Guthrie is someone who is much more of a character. She enters the story when there's a party being thrown on Ward's behalf at the household and Jack meets her outside the household as she's drinking and she's dressed procotavely enough get Jack a little sweaty. Like Charlotte, she temps his sexually-inexperienced confusion by telling him that if he were four years younger, he would be an ideal bedmate for her. Jack briefly ponders the act of bedding Ellen, and then an Oedipeal nightmare occurs: the sexually charged Ellen winds up sleeping with dad that night. Ellen then calls Jack to apologize for being a tease and invites him to her apartment, Jack seems to alternate between being disinterested and confused, and next thing you know the opportunity is lost and Ellen goes from being potential sex partner to new mommy.
Verdict-What the hell was Lee Daniels thinking? Book scores a billion points here. This love triangle between Ellen,

5. The Death of Ward-In the book, Ward (somewhat of a perfectionist) falls into despondency upon realizing his error that won him a Pulitzer led to Charlotte's death. He goes to California and drowns himself in the ocean. Although there's some wiggle room, it's treated by Jack as a suicide.
The Verdict-Slight edge to the book. If I was a purist, I might say the book is better or that the film is massively unfaithful. Then again, how do you have a filmically satisfying resolution to the brother flying off to California and possibly or possibly not drowning himself. Also, Van Wetter did kill ward in a metaphorical sense by exposing his flaw as a reporter, so this is close to an acceptable shortcut. Still, the site of Zac Efron caring two dead bodies is a little heavy of an ending and I think a distraught Matthew M. (Who's acting stock has gone up as of late) could have given a good scene expressing that dismay before he went off into the ocean.

6. Yardley got the job through unorthodox means-In the movie, there's a throwaway line where Yardley directly tells Jack that he got his position as Jack's partner through
performing oral sex on him. In the book, Yardley and Ward are an odd couple. Yardley is less of a perfectionist and is more concerned about the big picture. This figures into the plot because Ward trusted the key piece of evidence to Yardley and knew deep inside that Yardley would be too lazy to pursue the evidence.
Verdict: Oh god, Lee Daniels, TMI, the book. But in all seriousness, learning more about Yardley than how he compares to Ward and Jack is detrimental to the story. This isn't Yardley's story but the story of two brothers and a story about the write-up to a murder investigation. Which brings us to the biggest change of all....

7. Yardley is Black-In the book, he's known for being a smooth lothario. In the movie, he is known for being "the black guy."
Verdict: The book. Yardley wasn't a broken character that needed fixing. He was clearly meant to be a doppelganger for the two brothers. He's a sexual rival to Jack (in that he likes Charlotte and does something about it). He's also a lazier and less thorough version of Jack. Bringing in race politics (especially amplified from 1965) distracts from Yardley's commonalities with the two brothers.

8. Anita, the housekeeper, is the narrator in the movie-In the movie, Jack is the narrator. The director, Lee Daniels, is a prominent voice in the African-American filmic community and said he felt a need to respond to The Help and so wanted to elaborate on Anita. That is also why he wanted to make Yardley black.
Verdict-From a filmic standpoint, the book wins here too. Except for a few lines in text that show Jack has a clear attachment to Anita, The Paperboy is not thematically synonymous with The Help in any way, shape, or form. It was a big stretch. This was Jack's story. How do we even explain Anita having a good sense of detail for the crime scenes? She wasn't present at 90% of the scenes in the movie.

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