Susan Johnston knows a thing or two about writing. The Boston-based writer-blogger has contributed to The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, PARADE Magazine, and many other publications. So she knows what she’s talking about when she says that writers aren’t always depicted accurately in movies. I so agree. Read on for Susan’s thoughts, and be sure to check out her blog, The Urban Muse, and follow her on Twitter @UrbanMuseWriter.
Ever watched a movie and felt so distracted by inaccuracies you wanted to yell at the screen, “That would never happen in real life”? Or is that just me? As a freelance writer and blogger, I’m especially critical of movies that feature writers. Often, their protagonists fall into one of these extremes: the stereotype of the starving or creatively frustrated Bohemian or the glamorous, super-successful author who’s become filthy rich from a single book or income stream.
Not that I don’t enjoy watching writers on-screen. I’d just like to clear up a few misconceptions. Here are five movies that feature writers and a look at what they got right (and wrong):
1. Midnight in Paris (2011, PG-13)
The fantasy: When a screenwriter trying to pen the Great American novel (Owen Wilson) visits Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams), he travels back in time to meet literary idols like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who help him polish his manuscript and come to terms with his illusions.
The reality: Time travel may be a fantasy, but many writers and other creative types will identify with the protagonist’s struggle between commercially viable and creatively fulfilling work.
2. Beauty & the Briefcase (2010, TV-14)
The fantasy: Hilary Duff stars as a freelance writer who goes undercover, working at an investment bank so she can write about her experiences dating men in the business world.
The reality: Newbie writers don’t appear on the cover of women’s magazines (true, Hilary Duff appeared on the cover of Cosmo, but her character definitely wouldn’t). Editors don’t meddle in your love life, pointing out what you’ve been too dense to notice yourself.
3. Limitless (2011, PG-13)
The fantasy: A debut novelist played by Bradley Cooper cranks out his book in a few days after taking an experimental drug that boosts his focus and memory. He then enters the business world and struggles to protect his stash in this thriller film.
The reality: Nonfiction writers can land a book deal based on a proposal and a few sample chapters, but it’s almost unheard of for an unknown novelist to get an advance without writing a single word first. But I certainly sympathize with the pressure to deliver, as publishing can be über-competitive.
4. Sex and the City (2008, R)
The fantasy: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) lives the fabulous single life in Manhattan, sipping martinis and sporting Manolo Blahniks, all from the money she earns through a single dating column in a newspaper and a book of her columns.
The reality: As Jane and I can tell you, most freelance writers juggle many different assignments at once to make ends meet. However, Carrie’s struggles with writer’s block and her mixed experiences with book reviewers do ring somewhat true.
5. Adaptation (2002, R)
The fantasy: In the process of adapting Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief as a screenplay, Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) discovers that Orlean (Meryl Streep) is involved in a sordid affair with her book’s subject. As a subplot, Kaufman’s aimless twin brother (also Nicolas Cage) lands a movie deal himself.
The reality: The off-screen version of Susan Orlean reportedly laughed at the absurdity of her movie portrayal. And while the movie’s protagonist is aghast at his twin’s sudden screenplay success, we’ve all seen that sometimes oddball scripts or concepts actually do sell (for better or worse), while more artistic ideas simply languish in a drawer. Writing is subjective, so what appeals to one agent or movie house may not work for another.
Have you seen any of these movies? What other movies portray writers accurately (or not)? What would you add to this list? Share below in the comments.
Buy on Amazon:
[amazon_link id=”B001DDBCV4″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Sex and the City[/amazon_link]
[amazon_link id=”B004UXUSPA” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Midnight in Paris[/amazon_link]
[amazon_link id=”B0048KQQC4″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Beauty and the Briefcase[/amazon_link]
[amazon_link id=”B0051MKMNC” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Limitless[/amazon_link]
[amazon_link id=”B00441GYOW” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Adaptation[/amazon_link]