I hadn’t considered until very recently how many movies there are out there about writers. I’m not talking about books made into films. I’m talking about actors who play writers. I suppose since there’s a writer or two or four behind every film it makes sense; writers write what they know.
But the other evening, in the theater to watch “Margot at the Wedding,” (in which Nicole Kidman plays a writer), I began to think about the great number of films about writers and writing. Before the film, we watched a trailer for “Starting out in the Evening” which is about a has-been novelist. A few weeks ago, I saw “Dan in Real Life,” and Steve Carrell played a newspaper columnist.
But there’s a difference between a character who happens to be a writer and a character whose writing becomes part of the plot; the fact of their writing is central to the story. I’m thinking of films like “The Wonder Boys” or “Adaptation,” or “Capote .”
During the two hours I was in the theater absorbing “Margot at the Wedding” and the trailer for “Starting Out in the Evening,” it dawned on me how on-screen writers usually are presented as people with few positive traits. In general the characters that filled “Margot at the Wedding” were awful people all around, but a scene during that film, in which Nicole Kidman’s character was interviewed in front of an audience by another writer, actually made me think, “My god, writers are the worst people!”
I can’t think of a film in which a writer was portrayed in a positive light, secure in his or her own abilities. Even in the whimsical “Stranger than Fiction,” Emma Thompson plays a solitary chain-smoking novelist who has it in for her character. Michael Douglas’ character in “The Wonder Boys” is a disaster. Paul Giamatti’s writer-character in “Sideways”: lost and lacking in hope and self-confidence. Above all, writers in films are seen as selfish, aren’t they? Look at the two egotistical writer-parents in “the Squid and the Whale.”
I know it sounds as though I am surprised by the portrayal of writers this way, but I’m not. The portrayal — the selfish writer, bad at relationships, absorbed in his/her own work — well, there’s an element of truth in every stereotype, isn’t there? I guess I’m only surprised by how many films I can think of in which this is the case. Can anyone think of any films in which a character whose writing is central to the story comes off as inspiring/positive/selfless (or at least less selfish)? I’d love to see one.