by Janet Kobobel Grant
With the dog days of summer keeping us hunkered down by the air conditioning, this seems like the perfect time to binge on some movies. And doesn’t it just make sense that we would want to turn to the best movies about writers while we’re couch-potatoing it?
Oh, let me offer this caveat before you dip into the list of my picks for the five best movies about writers: I’m not going to attempt to rate these films for suitability. What offends me might not offend you and vice versa. I’m assuming we’re all adults here and can filter each of these offerings through whatever sieve works for each of us.
Now, to begin:
#1 Best Movie: Wonder Boys
This comedy-drama portrays the angst of not being able to find one’s writing mojo. After the writer’s first novel turns into a huge hit, the question becomes, is the writer (Michael Douglas) a one-hit wonder? A professor who parades around in a woman’s pink bathrobe when he’s searching for his own creative genius, Douglas pulls off an amazing performance that makes the viewer laugh one moment and feel the poignancy of a scene the next. Oh, and if you think the prof suffers from writer’s block, well, that’s not the problem. To quote one of his students to whom he finally turns for input on his now more than 2,000 page, single-spaced next novel, “It looks like you didn’t make any choices.” Yeah, on oh so many levels.
Picture worth a thousand words: When the precious manuscript accidentally scatters to the winds.
Here’s the trailer for the flick.
#2 Best Movie: Shakespeare in Love
A witty, screwball, tender and wise film all rolled into one, Shakespeare in Love plays with the question, where does a writer gets his ideas? From life, of course, but always with herbs and spices that only the writer knows of. Shakespeare (Ralph Fiennes) is a rising playwright but certainly not as famous as Christopher Marlowe, a fact a ferryman is only to happy to remind Shakespeare of by bragging, “Marlowe rode in my boat once.” Shakespeare currently is writing a comedy with the working title, “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter.” But he’s having trouble making the story work.
Then Shakespeare falls in love with Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), who longs to be an actor. Knowing women aren’t allowed to act, she dresses like a man and tries out for a part in an upcoming play. Through a series of hijinx, Shakespeare discovers Viola’s real identity and attempts to woo her (including in a scene reminiscent of the famous balcony scene in “Romeo and Juliet” but with a very different ending). Their love is fated not to be, breaking Shakespeare’s heart but leading to one of his best love plays, which retains the character named Romeo but switches Ethel out for Juliet.
Here’s the trailer.
#3 Best Movie: Adaptation
This movie is about the angst of being a writer who can’t figure out how to create anything even inherently interesting, let alone profound. Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) is hired to write a screenplay based on a nonfiction book, The Orchid Thief. But Charlie can’t find any “there” in the book–it has no action.
Compounding Charlie’s constipated writing is his twin, Donald (also Nicolas Cage, of course), who moves in with him and decides to also be a screenwriter. Donald quickly taps out a screenplay about a serial killer that is immediately snatched up, and the industry proclaims him the new, wunderkind.
Finally deciding he has to meet the author of The Orchid Thief (Meryl Streep) and the thief himself (Chris Cooper), Charlie sets in motion not only how to write the script but also a chain of events that profoundly affects everyone involved.
This flick is funny, thoughtful, and painfully captures the anguish of being a writer.
Here’s the trailer.
#4 Best Movie: Julia
Confession: I’ve read playwright Lillian Hellman’s autobiography, and the one thing I learned about Hellman is that she carefully veils what she thinks and feels. Oh, she’ll tell you all about what she’s done and with whom, but you never see inside the woman.
That’s ironic since “Julia” captures on screen a passionate and open Hellman (Jane Fonda), caught up in a complex relationship with the famous mystery writer Dashiell Hamett (Jason Robards) as her writing mentor and lover. Taking place at the start of WWII, this film depicts the true story of Hellman’s willingness to risk her life for Julia and to help the cause against Hitler.
Picture worth a thousand words: When Hellman tosses her typewriter, with a blank sheet of paper in it, out of her opened beach cottage window. Yup, we’ve all longed to go and do likewise.
Here’s the trailer.
#5 Best Movie: My Brilliant Career
This turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Australian film is based on the novel by teenager Miles Franklin. The artful language of the coming-of-age narrator made me hunger to read the novel itself. Headstrong young Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) bemoans her stifling life in the back country, where dust and poverty are common denominators for everyone she knows. Sybylla dreams of having a brilliant career as a writer, although no one can imagine where such a wild idea could have come from. Her family discourages such an outrageous dream, and Harry Beecham (Sam Neill), a wealthy landowner, woos her to marry him and set aside nonsensical ideas like having a career. “My Brilliant Career” feels “literary,” which is a perfect match for the beauty of the words penned by young Franklin.
Here’s the trailer.
Now, tell us, what writerly flicks are your favorites–and why?
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Would Hollywood add to its trifles
a cinematic ode to me?
Drinking beer and building rifles,
walking dogs and making tea?
I surely don’t have the answers
to all the questions plaguing life;
I’m just plagued with lethal cancers
and I surely plague my wife.
If they immortalize home and hillock,
who would portray the girl and man?
Barb, I think, by Sandra Bullock,
and I, of course, by Jackie Chan.
They’d show the poetry changing lives
is written when I ain’t throwing knives.
I know y’all are dying to know ome of the other dramatis personae (whom I have never met)…
Carol Ashby will be played by Sigourney Weaver
Jeanne Takenaka by Julia Roberts
Steve Laube by (easy choice!) Sly Stallone
and you, Janet…I think Helen Mirren.
I laughed when I read Helen Mirren should play me. I’m liking that choice! Savvy, straightforward yet with a grace about her. I’ll take that as a high compliment, Andrew. Thank you.
Thanks for the mention, Andrew. And, on a serious note, I’m praying for you, friend.
Janet, your portrayal by Hellen Mirren was my first (and only) thought.
I hope it’s OK that I take this opportunity to say that you are a towering figure in my life; you are a hero to me.
This community that you have nurtured has given me meaning, and has given me hope. Today, with a voice stilled by tumours and even the ability to bend down to tie my shoes sorely tested, I still look forward to the next Books and Such post. (Well, OK, I wear sandals now, because it reallly does hurt to much to tie a shoelace.)
They say that home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
And this, for me, is home.
I’m thankful this has been a cozy place for you to settle your heart and mind in, Andrew.
Jeanne, I so appreciate your prayers…and please know how much I appreciate the warm and loving Christian heart that I have come to know through your words.
You have made the world a better and brighter place for me, and for all of those who love you with a sincerity whose foundation is in the bedrock of the Cross.
Hate to spam up the comments, but evil things are afoot within me tonight, and I am scared to death (WEIRD turn of phrase for this).
I ask your indulgence, and ask your prayers.
Friends, I really hate to ask
and thus I come on bended knees;
could you pour gumption in my flask
and pass a cup of courage, please?
On this night I’m overwhelmed,
cast unto the scarlet flame,
and in the fire I have beheld
things too terrible to name.
Please be my Aaron and my Hur,
and hold aloft my failing arms;
please whisper hope that may endure
until the day of healing harms.
Most of all, I prithee, pray
that I am, for now, suffered to stay.
We are holding you up in prayer, Andrew.
Shirlee, we thank you so much.
Damon J. Gray
I would never pass the opportunity to bear you up in prayer, Andrew.
Damon, that means so much to us.
Mary Kay Moody
Every day, Andrew. Thank you for including us in your circle.
Mary Kay, it is we who are honoured by your friendship.
I LOVE “My Brilliant Career.” “Little Women” (1994) focuses on Jo March who aspires to be a writer. (Fun fact: the one who directed “My Brilliant Career,” directed “Little Women.”) “Finding Forrester,” is about a young man mentored by a reclusive best-selling author. “Authors Anonymous,” is an indie film about a group of writers and their comical journeys to publication. “Becoming Jane” is the romance of a young Jane Austen, but it shows how she came up with “Pride and Prejudice.” “To Walk Invisible,” is the story of the Bronte sisters and how they wrote their literary masterpieces.
I have seen Little Women and Becoming Jane. The others are new to me. I’ll have to check them out. I pondered putting Little Women on the list, but I decided to limit my picks to five.
Finding Forrester is one of my all-time favorites! It’s such an incredible story of friendship and a shared love of words. I’m glad you mentioned it, Veronica.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ooooh, these all look fascinating! I can imagine the negotiations my husband and I would go through to watch these. “Now, you watch five board game designer movies …”
“But there aren’t five board game designer movies, I don’t even know of one.”
“That’s besides the point.”
No, he would watch them with me because of love. And really, I watch a whole lot of action and superhero movies and even received the Jurassic Park Collection for Valentine’s Day one year (and enjoyed it for sure) but it is true that while I would probably love these, my 3 sons and husband might just be longing for a T-Rex to stomp on stage and snork someone down by the end of the first act. Thanks so much for the recommendations … now to figure out when to watch them!
They might enjoy Adaptation. It has some serious action in it.
Thanks for these suggestions! This list combines two of my favorite things: watching movies and writing stories. I have watched John Cusak in “The Martian Child” more than once. I love how a relationship changes the author’s career.
I don’t know about The Martian Child. What’s the plot?
Writing is in the background for most of the movie. John Cusak is an author looking for a purpose. He bonds with a foster child who believes he is a Martian. The poignant writer tie-in comes at the very end, and it would be a spoiler to say more. 🙂
John Cusak makes everything great! I loved Serendipity with Cusak. Wikipedia gives this description: “She suggests that one put their name and phone number on a $5 bill and the other on the front endpaper of a book that will be sold the next day. If each finds the other’s item they are meant to be together, and can make contact.”
The best movie about an author that I’ve watched is undoubtedly Finding Forrester with Sean Connery playing an author whose first novel won a Pulitzer, and then he disappeared. This story of how he comes to mentor an inner-city kid with amazing natural talent and how that friendship changes them both is one my husband loves, too. He often selects it for us to rewatch.
I’ve heard from others that this is a great movie.
This is one of my favorites too, Carol. 🙂
Finding Forrester includes one of my favorite writing quotes. “Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.”
I’ll have to watch some of these, Janet. The only one I’ve seen from your list is Shakespeare in Love.
I also love the 1994 version of Little Women, which someone else mentioned, and Stranger Than Fiction (about a novelist with writer’s block and a guy who wakes up with her voice in his head, narrating his life–a little weird but in a fun, quirky way).
Freedom Writers is also good! It’s a true story about a teacher at an inner-city school who reaches her students by having them read The Diary of Anne Frank. She gives them journals and encourages them to write their own stories, which were eventually published as a book. Most of the kids are involved in gangs, so it’s a little rough, but so inspiring.
I love romantic comedies. One of my writer flick faves is Alex and Emma with Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson—dual settings with reality and the goofy 1920s novel setting. Very fun…time for another watch.
Janet, I love movies about writers, but I haven’t watched one in a while (teenage boys aren’t very “in to” them). I appreciate the list you’ve shared. I haven’t watched any of them!
One of my favorites is, “Finding Forrester.” It’s been years since I’ve watched it, but I’ve never forgotten it. I just bought it at our library’s bookstore. I think I may need to watch it this weekend, and then check out some that you shared here.
Janet, I love Miss Potter. The movie’s title can make me cry instantly. But the sweet movie motivates me to write and dig deeper into my thoughts and descriptions … makes me want to be better. It’s one of my favorite movies. The sweet song “When You Taught Me How to Dance” … slays my heart every time.
One of my favorite writing movies is The Man Who Invented Christmas, the movie about Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol from 2017. I especially love the way Dickens interacts with his fictional characters. 😉 Even though it’s a Christmasy film, I’ll watch it throughout the year.
I still need to see this!
It’s wonderful, and family-friendly, too. Dan Steven’s did an incredible job portraying Charles Dickens.
Though not a feel-good movie, The Words is a great movie about a writer, the depths he sinks to in order to succeed, and the repercussions that follow. The acting is superb (Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, and Zoe Saldana).
Hm, I’ve never heard of this one. Thanks for introducing us to it, Connie.
Rachelle L Gardner
I loved The Words.