Archive | Book Matters

Lena Dunham’s ‘Heartburn’

Unlike many of her peers, Lena Dunham doesn’t score buzz for celebrity feuds, leaked sex tapes, or alleged stints in rehab. Instead, the Oberlin-educated actress, producer, director, and writer is known for clever quips, unapologetic feminism, a signature style, her film and TV projects (most recently, she’s producing a documentary about a tailoring company for the LGBT community), and an endearing, brilliantly articulated honesty. In short, she’s the latest in a long line of great Hollywood dames. So it’s no surprise that Lady Dunham has plenty of mentors – from Judd Apatow to her mom, the artist Laurie Simmons, to the late Nora Ephron. In fact, when the writer and director died in 2012, Dunham’s New Yorker remembrance (Nora’s advice about her love problems: “You can’t meet someone until you’ve become what you’re becoming”) was so loving and clear that it launched her own career as an author. To celebrate the publication of her memoir cum Helen Gurley-inspired advice manual Not That Kind of Girl, then, let’s consider a fantasy Dunham remake of “Heartburn,” the 1986 adaptation of Ephron’s thinly disguised account of her divorce from Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein.

Though that film boasted a terrific premise and an astonishing pedigree – Ephron herself wrote the screenplay; Oscar-winning Mike Nichols directed; Oscar-winning Meryl Streep starred as food writer Rachel (the Ephron stand-in); Oscar-winning Jack Nicholson played columnist Mark (the Bernstein stand-in); Carly Simon sang the soundtrack; and the supporting cast included Jeff Daniels, Stockard Channing, Catherine O’Hara, Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey (who plays a subway mugger in one of his first-ever screen roles), and Oscar-winning Milos Forman – it was a mixed bag at best. The problem lay mostly with Nichols. With respect to his legendary wit (check out his early standup with writer Elaine May), it didn’t quite match the sensibilities of good-girl absurdist Nora. On the other hand, Dunham’s combination of excellent manners and wacky irreverence – not to mention her family background of well-off creatives – mirrors Ephron perfectly. Continue Reading →

A Very Literary New York Film Festival

This weekend, the New York Film Festival kicks off its 52 year with a characteristic mix of big-deal premieres and artistically challenging fare from around world. Included in what looks to be one of its finest programs yet is a host of literary-minded films – book adaptations, biopics about writers, and films written by celebrated authors (think Bruce Wagner and Marguerite Duras). Here are the selections that pique our interest most.

“The Blue Room”
Stateside, Mathieu Amalric is best known as the puckish star of such films as “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and the Bond film “Quantum of Solace.” But the French actor is also an accomplished director in his own right, and his latest offering is an adaptation of Georges Simenon’s slim mystery novel about a misbegotten affair between a married man (Amalric) and an increasingly unhinged woman (Stéphanie Cléau, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Amalric). With shades of Patricia Highsmith and Almaric’s sure, classical style, this noir promises to be neurotica at its most compelling. Continue Reading →

As Seen on TV: ‘This Is Where I Leave You’

“This Is Where I Leave You” is such a rare bird nowadays — a mid-budget, big-studio ensemble dramedy — that the only real basis for comparison is the television drama. That’s hardly an insult. As the critic David Thomson recently wrote, “Long-form television is the narrative form that has transcended movies as the novel once surpassed cave paintings.” Even if that weren’t so, the setup of Shawn Levy’s new film might seem like an offering from some (utopian) NBC lineup: It’s based in an American suburb. It blends humor, romance, and bathos. And it features an endearingly dysfunctional family with Jason Bateman and Tina Fey at its center, both of whom wisecrack aplenty as they keep their wackier clan members in check.

Adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his best-selling novel, it begins as Judd Altman (Bateman) discovers his wife (Abigail Spencer) is sleeping with his radio schlock jock boss (Dax Shepard). While Judd’s still reeling, his father dies, and his mother Hillary (Jane Fonda) declares their whole family must honor the Jewish custom of sitting shivah together for seven days. This leads to an excellent sight gag: the four grown Altman children — Judd, Wendy (Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver) — lined up with Hillary on improbably tiny chairs as their friends and neighbors ply them with carbohydrates galore. (Noodle kugel is a favorite.) Continue Reading →

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