Sunday, August 30, 2015
Turning Young Adult novels into feature films has been all the rage this decade. Never has the prospect of adapting a YA novel to the big screen been so profitable for Hollywood. Just this past month Paper Towns came out to decent reviews, then Dark Places to less than decent. If looking at the Hollywood's current itinerary is any indication, we have more YA movies coming out this fall: a movie based on R.L Stine's hugely popular Goosebumps series, and the final chapter to the Hunger Games Franchise. There's much more to come, but here are a few that got it done right and helped the Young Adult film movement advance into the 21st century.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
It is not surprising that the best, most expertly made movie of the Harry Potter franchise is The Prisoner of Azkaban. All credit must go to the best director to have helmed a Potter movie: Alfonso Cuarón. The director of Children of Men, Gravity and Y Tu Mama Tambien used his visual wizardry in this 2004 movie. This is when the Potter books got dark, gritty and went a completely different direction. Based on J.K Rowling's wildly successful series of books, Azkaban has Harry and the gang trying to deal with Sirius Black, frenetically played by Gary Oldman, a man whom they believe is out to get revenge on Harry for his imprisonment.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)
Adapted from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's darkly giddy novel of the same name, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist plays like a Young Adult version of Martin Scorsese's underrated 1985 picture After Hours. Just like Scorsese's picture, this film takes place in the wee-wee hours of the night in New York City. Michael Cera and the infectiously adorable Kat Dennings play strangers of the night who have just met. Nick is trying to figure out where his favorite band's secret show will take place, while Norah is searching for her missing drunken friend. Director Peter Stollett makes sure the film lives up to its stylish source material by infusing it with - as he stated - "the best music you haven't heard yet". The result is a compulsively likable movie that romanticizes the after hours.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)The Hunger Games is like Battle Royale but tampered down for the Young Adult crowd. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Proof can be found in the second installment of the movie franchise which was a clear improvement from the first one and upped the ante in terms of drama and action. Author Suzanne Collin's mega-popular series of novels benefited from the casting of Jennifer Lawrence, an indie queen at the time who stunned critics in the film Winter's Bone. In Catching Fire Lawrence seems to finally be comfortable with her new-found mainstream popularity by embracing the role of Katniss Everdeen. In the film, Everdeen, having won the Hunger Games, returns home but realizes the battle for a democratic state has just begun and that another set of pivotal games is about to happen.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2011)
Stephen Chobsky's novel about a shy, wounded, introverted high schooler named Charlie is a singular achievement in its own right.. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a staple of the YA form and a well-written ode to young outcasts everywhere. It helps that Chobsky actually wrote and directed the film, with an uncredited John Hughes helping him out! The words come out like fine wine, as does the tone of the movie, which retains the dark, melancholic feel of the source material. The cast was also thoughtfully chosen: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller invest so much into their roles that they have no problem whatsoever fully fleshing out their characters. The friendship these three form in the movie is refreshingly real: Every detail and every line of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is sheer perfection.
The Spectacular Now (2012)
If there is a theme that we keep running into with the films on this list, it's that they are almost all "coming of age" stories, a staple of the YA novel. The Spectacular Now is in fact that, but so much more. Based on Tim Tharp's novel of the same name, the story's protagonist, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), is a national book award finalist. He is also the guy you want at your party, a charming teenager so high on living for the moment that the viewer might be tricked into thinking all is right in Keely's life. It's not. He has no plans for college, no clear set career, carries a flask filled with alcohol everywhere he goes, and seems content with his job folding clothes at a retail store. Of course his girlfriend breaks up with him, but soon after he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley) and a new relationship begins. Teller and Woodley are phenomenal in showing us the ups and downs of a relationship that was doomed to fail from the start, and director James Ponsoldt - right now on a career high with The End of the Tour - keeps the novel's moral reality check intact.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Having won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl came out this summer with a slew of expectations. The film deals with a teenager who has stage IV cancer and focuses on a friendship that was doomed to fail just because of the diagnosis. If that plot description isn't reminiscent of The Fault in Our Stars, then what is? That's where comparisons should end, though. Jesse Andrews wrote the novel and ended up writing the screenplay for the movie adaptation and the film plays out almost like an anti-Fault in Our Stars. It skips the love story and decides to concentrate on the oddball characters that populate the story.
The Princess Bride (1987)
One can understand why Rob Reiner’s movie adaptation of William Goldman's fantasy novel was such an enigma when it first came out in 1987. It was supposed to be primarily aimed at the YA crowd but ended up pleasing all ages with its deadpan, Monty Python-esque humor and a bold, satirical narrative that never took itself too seriously. However, the love story deftly told by a grandfather to his ill grandson about a beautiful princess called Buttercup who gets kidnapped is a touching one. What works in Reiner’s tale - just like in the novel - is that every character is a delight, and there isn’t a dull one in the bunch. Most importantly, the true heart of the story is Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya as a heroic swordsman with a secret and a debt to settle – “Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
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