The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


It's not often that I'll side with Hollywood in a book v. movie version of book debate, but I think that the film of WONDER BOYS may be, if not "as good as" the book, certainly worthy of equal attention. I'm rereading it in conjunction with my summer Pittsburgh-in-literature class, and remembering just how great parts of the book areā€”the characters of Grady Tripp and Terry Crabtree, the chancellor-Tripp-English department chair love triangle, the narrative voice.

The movie version (script credited to Chabon himself) drops a big chunk of the novel: a long episode in the middle where Tripp and James (the young student, played in the movie by Tobey Maguire) drive up 79 to "Kinship," a town I assume is near Grove City or Newcastle, where they attend the first Seder of Passover with Tripp's wife's family. Tripp's wife Emily is one of three Korean orphans that have been adopted by a Jewish family in Squirrel Hill and raised Jewish. It's a long scene with little dramatic purpose except to introduce a couple of foils (Emily's brother and sister) and Irv, Emily's father, who is more forgiving of Tripp's failings than anyone else in the book. The movie entirely drops the scene, a choice that I think provides important focus to the story.

This focus, in turn, helps make the movie a great portrait of a wintry Pittsburgh (another change from the book, of course, in which it's early spring). The location work (it was all filmed here) is wonderful, and if they move Tripp's house from Denniston in Squirrel Hill to somewhere in Friendship, that's not something I disagree with. The cinematography captures the city's picturesque decrepitude while also showing what's genuinely attractive and appealing about it. And Michael Douglas is perfect. Only Frances McDormand is a questionable choice.


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