Archive | Book Matters

Oates (and ‘Boyhood’) for Lunch

Without a doubt, the headline news at an early December “Boyhood” luncheon at NYC’s Lotos Club was the New York Film Critics Circle Awards that the film won minutes into the event. As attendees swilled cocktails, the announcement came that Patricia Arquette had won Best Supporting Actress, Richard Linklater had won Best Director, and the film had nabbed Best Picture honors, confirming the coming-of-age drama’s position as this year’s Oscar frontrunner. But for some attendees of the event – including “Boyhood” star Ethan Hawke – the biggest news was author Joyce Carol Oates, who moderated a discussion with the film’s cast and director.

As Oates, Hawke, Linklater, Arquette, and costar Ellar Coltrane settled into folding chairs, Hawke, a published novelist himself, burst out, “It’s such an honor to sit with you.” (Several film journalists looked befuddled about the National Book Prize winner’s identity.) Oates, clad in her standard uniform of demure, dark garments, smiled quickly and dove into a discussion of the film, which was shot over the course of twelve years. Continue Reading →

The Alchemy of ‘Still Alice’

Without Julianne Moore, “Still Alice” might not be much of a film. This is not to say the adaptation of Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel about a fifty-year-old woman stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is otherwise mediocre, although it is so unobtrusively constructed that its virtues may be overlooked. But because it focuses on the perspective of a person with Alzheimer’s rather than on the perspective of her caregivers, a uniquely gifted actor is required in the titular role. Who but Moore, with her radiant fusion of fortitude and empathy, could soldier us through a narrative whose unhappy ending is as inevitable as that of the Titanic?

Initially, Alice Howland seems like she has it all. A celebrated Columbia University linguistics professor, she is happily married to fellow academic John (an unusually muted Alec Baldwin), and the couple enjoy their three grown children as well as their well-appointed Long Island beach house and NYC brownstone. If she is a tad thorny when things don’t go her way – her youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), an aspiring actor, bears the brunt of her mother’s tenacity – it’s nothing extraordinary in a modern Type A woman. But when Alice can no longer write off her memory loss and growing confusion as mere middle-aged malaise (read: menopause side effects), her worst fears are outstripped: She is diagnosed with a rare strain of Alzheimer’s that is inherited and can be transmitted. “I wish I had cancer,” she weeps, and although some might take umbrage with her disease comparison-shopping, we understand what she means. Especially in her line of work, she does not know who she will be without her formidable brain. Continue Reading →

Neither Dick Flick nor Chick Flick: ‘Wild’

At heart, Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s wildly popular memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, is a mother-daughter love story. Cheryl and her mom, Bobbi, attended college at the same time, and before the two got a chance to resolve their deeply loving, deeply charged dynamic (or even receive their degrees), Bobbi died of breast cancer – leaving Cheryl to feel she had failed in what she perceived as her job to protect her mom. It’s no wonder that the younger woman ruined her marriage, became addicted to heroin, and, almost secondarily, forced herself to walk 1,100 miles of desert and mountain land. She had a ghost to exorcise, and she exorcised it so beautifully that along the way she spawned a best-selling memoir – and, by extension, a movie produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon in the titular role. As Witherspoon has joked, this may be the first film ever to star a woman who has no money, no man, no parents, no job, and no opportunities but still boast a happy ending.

The overall pedigree of “Wild” is both impressive and a little surprising. Of course the story has flinty Reese and her strong jaw written all over it, and Laura Dern’s raw grace makes perfect sense for the character of Bobbi. Less intuitive is louche British novelist Nick Hornby as screenwriter, with direction provided by Jean-Marc Vallée, who helmed last year’s sinewy AIDS drama, “Dallas Buyers Club.” Valée also co-edited this film under the pseudonym John Mac McMurphy (as he did “Dallas Buyers Club”), and that’s the most important credit at hand. This is a film that’s really all about the editing. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy