Friday, September 19, 2014

Book to Movie: This Is Where I Leave You

The movie This Is Where I Leave You opens today in theaters nationwide with a powerhouse cast that includes Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Jason Bateman and Adam Driver. I had the opportunity to see a screening earlier this week and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. In fact, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie because I have been evangelizing this book since I read it a number of years ago (I have recommended it to so many since then) and I was a little hesitant about the movie since they often disappoint as compared to the book. I knew, however, that the author, Jonathan Tropper, has been very involved in the movie and had even written the screenplay - that, coupled with the cast, convinced me to give it a try. And I was not disappointed in the least.

 This Is Where I Leave You tells the story of the Altman family and the movie opens with the death of the patriarch, Mort Altman. Recently widowed and mother to the clan, Hilary Altman, played by Jane Fonda, informs the family that their father's dying wish was to have the entire family sit shiva for him. This places the adult Altman children in their childhood home receiving family and friends offering their condolences for seven days. It is clear there is a lot of love in the family but there is also tension which is exacerbated by their grief and being forced into close proximity day after day. As the week progresses, each sibling has personal revelations and secrets are exposed.

 I had the chance, with some other bloggers, to speak with Jonathan Tropper about the movie and the book to move transformation. I was especially interested in his thoughts as the author and screenwriter on the differences between the two media and the impact on his story.

  What do you think TV and movies can do better than books in telling a story? What can books do better than something on screen?

A movie has the benefit of being able to transport for an hour and a half, two hours with no interruptions and give you the whole story and take you on the entire journey in a kind of encapsulated way.  And you just sit back and watch it all unfold...the book kind of lingers.  But you have to kind of refocus.  So, that's also the plus of the book is that you can live with the characters in the book over a period of weeks, whereas you know a movie you're done in two hours . . .I think you know the rest is kind of obvious.  The movies can give you score, and the movies can give you mood, and the movies can give you sort of wonderfully comedic actors who can make you laugh in a way that the narrative can't.
And on the other hand, the book can take you much deeper into their minds and their emotional states and really make you understand them in a way that in a movie sometimes you really have to do that math yourself.
One thing I definitely noticed in the movie is the score/soundtrack - it enhanced my enjoyment of the story and the nostalgic selection of 80's and 90's tunes was perfect for a group of siblings returning to their childhood home. It certainly added to the ability of the movie to transport.

I noticed while watching the movie that I felt more empathetic to Judd (played by Jason Bateman) than I did while reading the book. I was interested to hear Jonathan Tropper's thoughts on my different reactions to the character in the movie versus the book:
There's two things there that you're reacting to.  The first is I think just that you know Jason Bateman happens to be a very charming guy.  He’s extremely likable.  And he brings that into whatever he does.
But beyond that, in the book I could allow the character to be slightly more reprehensible and slightly less sympathetic because you can kind of do that in literature and still redeem the character because I'm giving you the inner workings of his mind.
So, I'm sort of bringing you to a place where you understand.  And even if you find some of his behavior a little outrageous, in the movie because I can't make you privy to the inner workings of his mind and his thought process, I have to work with him a little harder to make sure I'm not making him you know too much of an asshole.
And so, there is some balance in that, where there are certain things he did in the book that I wouldn't have him do in the movie because I wouldn't be able to explain to you why he's doing it.
Screenplay writer and author, Jonathan Tropper (on set with book in hand)

Finally, I observed that the movie is so close to the book - which as a lover of the book, I appreciated. Tropper, as the screenwriter, was able to ensure the story stayed close to the one he wrote in the book but he also gave credit to the director (Shawn Levy) saying "he [Shawn Levy] was just such a fan of the book that we were actually in this strangely reverse position where the director was actually pushing me to be truer to my own source material than I was being".

This book is a wonderful book to movie transformation and I enjoyed hearing Tropper's thoughts on the differences between the media and how he brought the characters to life in the movie versus in the book.

If you are looking for a comedy, with just the right touch of sentimentality (I cried twice during the movie), see This Is Where I Leave You - - it opens today (Sep 19th) at theaters nationwide.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Losing Touch by Sandra Hunter

Losing Touch: Arjun Kulkani moved his entire family to North London from India. Like many immigrants, he works hard to fit in but also wants to preserve the values and traditions of his homeland. He has studied the English and outwardly makes every effort to blend in - he is careful in his appearance and tries to always be quiet and respectful. Even though he tries so hard to blend in, he is frustrated by his son Murad and daughter Tarani who try to distance themselves from their Indian heritage and adopt the cultural norms of their new home but without his intense desire to fade to the background and not stand out. This generational struggle is only one of many faced by this family especially when Arjun begins to decline from an inherited form of muscular dystrophy which first steals the feeling in his leg and gradually debilitates him until he is completely dependent on his wife, Sunila, for care. With the passage of time and loss of ability, Arjun makes observations about this own life and the family he has built, however clumsily, in London.

 The book opens with Arjun and the family attending the funeral of his younger brother, Jonti. Jonti has died from the muscular dystrophy that Arjun fears and eventually develops himself. This scene at the funeral provides the first snapshot of the Kulkani family including the extended family of Aunts, Uncles and cousins. We meet Sunila, Arjun's wife, and immediately detect her dissatisfaction with life and even with Arjun. There is tension between the Arjun and Sunila which is exacerbated by Arjun's obvious feelings for his sister-in-law, Pavi. While Sunila seems to harp on what they don't have or what she wished was different, Pavi seems to understand Arjun and speaks gently with him. Of course, the move to London and the pressure to fit in has been difficult on everyone and Sunila is no exception - as the book progresses so does an understanding of Sunila's dissatisfaction and what she has also sacrificed to make this move and live this life.

 My Thoughts
This book beautifully portrays the passage of time and the losses and pain which accumulate over the years. Each chapter provides another snapshot of the family - the story is not continuous so much as a series of snapshots but the themes of generational struggle and Arjun's increasing understanding of himself even as his physical abilities decline run throughout these snapshots. We see the children grow and Arjun's generation age.  Interestingly, we also see Arjun become more of an outsider rather than less despite all his efforts to assimilate. Where first his status as an immigrant makes him and outsider, towards the end of the book he is also and outsider within his own family as they live life around him and his becomes increasingly disabled due to his disease.  In this passage, Arjun muses on his status as an outsider:
What importance he used to place on small things: his perfectly ironed shirts, the knife-crease in his trousers, the well-tailored jackets and suits, his meticulously folded socks and underwear, his Kiwi-polished shoes, his leather wallet. These details made him feel a little taller, a little better prepared to face the hostile he had moved to . . . . It all meant something, some sense of striving for decorum and order, some sense of fitting in to the middle-class neighbourhood whose ideals he's never quite grasped. 
The feeling of donning an armor to face a new country or striving but never truly understanding the new country you have moved to is one faced by many immigrants but so poignantly told in this novel. The author has told a beautiful story of a single family through a series of snapshots that captured the big, but most small moments of a lifetime.

I read this book as part of the TLC Book Tour - you can find other reviews of the book here.