The Los Angeles Times has some of the first footage from John Krasinksi’s adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It’s a montage of a guy giving the same speech to various girlfriends explaining why the relationship isn’t going to work out. It’s painfully incomplete, ending with a real “WHAT’S IN THE HATCH” moment, and it’s impossible to really read too much into it as far as whether or not this would be a good or enjoyable movie to watch. There’s just not enough here.

And even if it were easier to make some kind of early, poorly-informed judgment call on the movie, I wouldn’t. I have no fight with this movie. It has a good cast (Will Forte, Timothy Hutton, Bobby Cannavale, and…Ben Gibbard?), and I am sure that Mr. Krasinski’s heart is in the right place. I’m curious to see what it’s like, and will reserve my judgment until then, even if this does remind me an awful lot of Liev Schreiber’s well-intentioned adaptation of Everything Is Illuminated, which is the only movie I have ever ejected from the DVD player (after only 10 minutes) and placed directly in the garbage. That thing was the absolute worst thing.

But even if the movie turns out to be great, and it’s a hopeful day, so let’s extend our optimistic enthusiasm to this project, that still doesn’t mean it should exist.

Something just feels…incorrect about adapting David Foster Wallace. I would be hard-pressed to think of a contemporary writer whose work was less prone to adaptation than his. And it’s not because it isn’t filled with lots of vivid imagery (it is), or that he can’t tell a cohesive narrative (he can, kind of), but because his writing is so obviously a celebration of the written word. Not to be such an over-shushing library nerd about it, but it seems to me that his books, all of them, with the possible exception of that laborious treatise on the concept of infinity, were as much about how language works as they were about their subjects.

So, to render a collection of stories that was, rightly or wrongly, roundly criticized for its near impenetrability (in places) into something that at this early stage looks like He’s Just Not That Into You* feels like a betrayal. I’m not normally one prone to the suggestion that subjects are off limits. Nothing is precious. I shy away from the very suggestion that this post is obviously making that somehow Krasinski should not be allowed to take this book as his inspiration, which is obviously what this has to be, a movie inspired by the book, not an actual faithful rendering into film, if we agree that a faithful rendering is impossible based on the huge disparity between the written word, particularly in Wallace’s case, and the filmed image. And yet I am obviously making that suggestion. Not so much that he shouldn’t be allowed to take this book as inspiration for his movie, but simply that there’s no conceivable need, at least in my mind, to do so.

Maybe this is going to be the best movie, like the titular Entertainment in Infinite Jest; a movie so good that it drives people crazy. Even then, I am not convinced that we need it. If you make a great movie based on a book that fundamentally stands in opposition to the movie itself, does a pope shit in the woods, or whatever? And, I mean, what’s the point, when we can just remake The Honeymooners again.

* Which is itself adapted from what should theoretically be an unadaptable book: a humorous self-help relationship guide.

Comments (13)
  1. I don’t know. For me, it’s precisely because the adaptation does not have a clear reason for being that I’m actually interested in seeing it. Also can you think of another book you love that’s less fuckwithable than BIWHM? If they made IJ into a total botch of a movie, it would still be hard to go back to the book w/o having the experience influence your rereading. I don’t see that happening to BIWHM. As you said, it’s at least 50% about its own language; no adaptation is going to mess with that. For that reason, I’m like: go for it, Halpert.

    Also, I’m REALLY curious to see what if any use he makes of the druggie girl’s epic rape survival narrative.

  2. I know riight… how do footnotes translate to film? Also, I never pictured that music while reading this book.

    well written, gabe, and thanks for sharing worrysome over this

  3. Andrew  |   Posted on Jan 20th, 2009 +2

    nice use of footnote

  4. Trevor  |   Posted on Jan 20th, 2009 0

    Not sure what you’re saying here. That Wallace should be off-limits to adaptation? Any adaptation’s going to have problems w/re-creating the experience of reading. An adaptation should try to capture the spirit of the work rather than the letter. It sounds like, from your link, that Wallace felt the spirit was there in the screenplay. He gave the film his stamp of approval because Krasinski found a thread to bind the pieces together.

  5. Gabe’s He’s Just Not That Into You criticism is probably the best one that can be made based on that preview. Sloop John B doesn’t fit quite right.

    I want to side with Gabe, and I want to say things like DFW would’ve objected to making the interviewer an actual character and that he would’ve hated any film adaptation of his works, but if the man himself showed genuine enthusiasm for the project I feel hopeful for it.

  6. Hey, Gabe? You have a point. But, Gabe? I look at it this way. There are so many terrible, terrible movies and shows and musics and peoples that if JK wants to make a film inspired by DFW, I AM FOR THAT. It won’t be like the book, no. It won’t “feel like” DFW’s writing, but if it has that essence, even a little bit, it’s sure as shit going to be better than Mylie Cyrus.

  7. Lucy  |   Posted on Jan 20th, 2009 0

    I didn’t think Everything is Illuminated was THAT bad. Sure, it was nowhere near as good as the book, but I just thought it was “meh.”

  8. matthew  |   Posted on Jan 20th, 2009 +1

    Just so you know, the “WHAT’S IN THE HATCH” ending of that clip is exactly how that particular story / interview ends in the book. So, you won’t ever find out what that “one more” thing he had to tell her was… unless John Krasinski took some SERIOUS liberties, which, based on that clip, I doubt he did.

    Anyway, I LOVE the book and am very much looking forward to this movie.

  9. When DFW died, my heart broke. I just can’t care about this film anymore.

    • Eli!  |   Posted on Jan 20th, 2009 0

      Wait – anymore?

      • As pointed out above, film was a central theme of his work. I was very interested in seeing his response to the process of adaptation. He excelled at first-person narrative essays, and this would have given him fodder for marrying his interest in film (see the US Premiere piece on David Lynch) with his life experience. Also, I guess I’d hoped the movie, as an external process, would drag him out of his dark place.

        I cared that the film existed…I didn’t necessarily care to see it.

  10. bob  |   Posted on Jan 21st, 2009 0

    Saw this at sundance. Some didn’t care for it, but I LOVED it. It’s a love or hate kind of movie. Definately worth checking out. I think he did Wallace proud.

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