Watched this last night:
As you can see from the trailer it’s based on a Raymond Carver story, one of my favourite Raymond Carver stories in fact, Why Don’t You Dance?
I wasn’t expecting much. I rented the movie as it was a 99p rental on iTunes and my better half and I just wanted a slice of easy Friday night viewing after a pretty awful week of dealing with poorly kids. The film was actually a pleasant surprise. Will Ferrell turns in a suitably downtrodden performance as the alcoholic made to live on his lawn when his wife leaves him and his stuff there. The story is of course much expanded from the handful of pages that tell Carver’s story. In doing this the screenwriter/director made some solid choices, developing the characters and situations beyond recognition from the short story, beyond the key feature of a drunk guy made to live on his lawn. The whole thing plays out in an understated and at times heartwarming tale, and while I am in no rush to see it again, it was pretty good in places.
As the credits rolled though I got to thinking about the short story that inspired the film. It’s one of a handful of Carver stories that I would place in my top five Carver stories. It would probably make my top ten best stories ever. While the film, if the story did not exist, would probably fade into distant memory for me and most anyone else who watches it, the opposite is true of the story. Since I first read the story it is one that my thoughts have returned to again and again. I have read the story over and over in the years since my initial brush with it. The film did not exist for many years after the story was written, yet I am sure I am not alone when I say it still flits into my brain from time to time.
I suppose what this highlights is the power of intensity and focus of a short story over a longer one. Everything Must Go is a fair enough response to the original work, but it adds nothing to it. Thankfully the original story is strong enough, dense enough, has acquired enough mass through Carver’s careful crafting (and Gordon Lish’s editing perhaps) to emerge from the other side of the process undiminished. Perhaps because the work is a short story and not a novel, the necessary expansion of character, cast, setting and scenes remove the project far enough from its starting point to seperate the two more clearly in the mind of the viewer than is possible with a novel and any movie made from it.
For me, the whole thing serves to show how great the original work is, how sturdy the short form in general is. Proof positive, if it were needed, that short fiction does what no other artform can. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you watch the movie, but you really should read the Carver story if you haven’t.
Are there any movies from short stories that you could recommend? I can think of one which I reviewed a while back. How about you?