John Irving's novels pose tantalizing challenges to filmmakers: at his best, Irving has proven both popular and ambitious, crafting rich, picaresque fiction that juggles Big Themes and antic comedy, braiding his central narratives with intriguing subplots and discursive back stories driven by vivid characters. Irving's accessibility teases the would-be director or producer with the prospect of commercial acceptance even as the scope and intricacy of his work raises crucial risks for the scriptwriter. With two early novels that made it to the screen, The World According to Garp
and The Hotel New Hampshire
, Irving's box office impact thus far evenly translates to hit and miss.
This slender memoir offers a perceptive, if hardly objective, critique of the inherent differences between novels and screenplays, with the writer sharing his own experiences creating both. Irving focuses principally on his crusade to bring The Cider House Rules to the screen, tracing its gestation through four successive directors; with Irving himself attached as scriptwriter, we see the novelist struggling to reconcile the demands of concision against his paternal instincts toward the original book. Written before the final cut of The Cider House Rules, My Movie Business often verges on self-justification. Irving's respect for the movie's ultimate caretaker, Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom, is evident, as is his hopeful enthusiasm for the project's casting (which includes Michael Caine, Tobey McGuire, Jane Alexander, and Charlize Theron). Yet Irving can't repress the wariness prompted by his earlier disappointments with both this and other novels.
Ultimately, such candor doesn't diminish the account's value as a post mortem of the creative process behind serious filmmaking, nor does it overpower the reliable grace of Irving's prose. Fans will also find My Movie Business revealing in its exploration of the inspiration behind The Cider House Rules and its eloquent stance against the antiabortion movement--Irving's own grandfather, a leading doctor, administrator, and Harvard professor of obstetrics and gynecology. But moviegoers, as well as those who haven't read Irving's original novel, should be forewarned that this memoir does reveal key plot elements of both. --Sam Sutherland
From Publishers Weekly
After three of his novels became motion pictures scripted by other writers (The World According to Garp, Hotel New Hampshire and A Prayer for Owen Meany, which was rechristened on screen as Simon Birch), and two of his own screenplays languished unproduced, Irving finally got his chance to adapt one of his novels to film. The focus of this slim, eloquent memoir is Irving's 13-year struggle to bring The Cider House Rules to the big screen, and its passage through the hands of various producers, four different directors and numerous rewrites. Backtracking to illuminate the origin of the novel's pro-abortion stance, Irving introduces readers to his grandfather, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and to the history of abortion. (Abortions didn't become illegal throughout the U.S. until 1846, when physicians sought to take the procedureAand financial rewardsAout of the hands of midwives, Irving reveals.) He also offers a fascinating and detailed look at how he trimmed his huge novel into a workable screenplay. Although he professes to love the final product, Irving details each scene and line that was cut as the film was edited down to two hours. While he claims to be pleased with the screen treatments of his previous novels, he is disappointingly silent on the subject of Simon Birch (he refused the filmmakers the use of the protagonist's name and also insisted that the screen credit state that the film was "Suggested by the novel"). 32 pages of photographs. (Nov.) FYI: The Cider House Rules, starring Tobey McGuire, Michael Caine and Erykah Badu, opens Nov. 24.
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