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24 June 2007 @ 11:34 am
Book to Movie Adaptation Screw-ups (Specifically 'Age of Innocence')  
This popped into my mind recently and it's something I've long wanted to know if any other Wharton readers felt the same way and I figured LJ was the place to ask.

While I did feel that Martin Scorsese's Age of Innocence was beautifully directed and that the acting by all three leads -- Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder was strong (the weakest being, surprisingly, Day-Lewis, but I don't think that Ryder deserved an Oscar nom), I had a HUGE beef with the casting that makes the film practically unwatchable to me. I did manage to watch it once because I wanted to see if the acting/direction/script could overcome it. It could not. At all.

I read Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence in college and loved it. I thought it was devastatingly beautiful and one of my favorite classics I've ever read. And when I first heard about the movie adaptation I was nervous, but I figured that Scorsese would do a good job. And then I heard the casting and thought it odd because Pfeiffer was way too old to play May and Ryder way too young to play Ellen, but I figured, eh, I'll see. And then I found out that Pfeiffer was playing Ellen and that Ryder was playing May and I saw red. Absolute red. Talk about just about completely MISSING THE FRIGGIN' POINT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wharton very deliberately set the readers up to have a certain notion about both May and Ellen, only to turn it upside down by revealing through her words who these two women truly were. She deliberately used superficial stereotypes only to turn them on their head. May was introduced as the blond, blue-eyed perfect little miss. Ellen was introduced as the dark-haired, dark-eyed femme fatale. And it was a DELIBERATE choice to portray them according to THOSE stereotypes. May's blond prettiness was a huge part of what made everyone (including readers initially) buy her sweet and innocent, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth act and Ellen's dark, exotic beauty was a big part of why everyone (including readers initially) bought that Ellen was the "bad girl."

For those who've read the book/seen the movie, you know that it was the opposite. May was a conniving little witch who used her blond innocence to get what she wanted and Ellen was a truly good person, who had a pure and whole heart whose exotic dark beauty added and embellished her reputation as a "fallen woman." (She divorced a man who -- if I'm remembering correctly -- beat her, but this was the early 1900's so she was bad, bad, bad for divorcing him.) You're getting my point here, right? By casting the blond, blue-eyed, angelic-looking Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen and dark-haired, dark-eyed (albeit, much more innocent-looking than exotic) Winona Ryder as May, it completely undermined that brilliant maneuver that Wharton used in the book to expose ridiculous stereotypes for what they were. And since so much of the drama and character decisions that happened in the book derived from people buying into the stereotype, to completely and utterly go opposite that in casting the film took out one of the biggest themes of Wharton's writing. ARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

To add insult to injury, while Ryder was roughly the right age for May -- a blond-haired, blue-eyed, at the time, 18-year-old Kate Winslet would have been eerily perfect for the role, Michelle Pfeiffer at 35 was not, as Ellen was in her mid-20's in the book. At the time 28, but looking younger, a dark-haired, blue-eyed, naughty-looking Sherilyn Fenn (see this b/w shot) would have been almost perfect as Ellen (the blue eyes, but the rest fit perfectly). I just ... it infuriates me because had they just got the casting correct, this could have been a brilliant movie and it drives me crazy that it got such great reviews, although, yeah, I understand for the excellence of the film, but it just took away my absolute favorite thing about Wharton's book and such an important theme.

Anyhoo, that's my biggest book-to-movie adaptation screw-up that gets to me, anyone agree or have their own?
tigereyes320: LVstarted with a kisstigereyes320 on June 24th, 2007 05:13 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean
Of course not everyone like Alexandra Ripley sequel to Gone with the Wind. I did. and when the horrible mini-series came out they couldn't have picked a more WRONG person to play Scarlet.
Joanne Whalley-Kilmer???? Scarlet has GREEN eyes, they couldn't have made her wear contacts? You can't take an integral part of a character and change it.
Arabianarabian on June 24th, 2007 07:01 pm (UTC)
Re: I know what you mean
Eh, I wasn't horribly impressed with Scarlett, but I didn't even bother watching the miniseries. No, no, no. And I love Joanne Whalley, but even for her, I couldn't watch it ... and she WAS miscast. Just bad all around. Ugh.
Ex Astris, Scientia: OH NOEZmrsvc on October 25th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC)
I agree. Sometimes I wonder if the people even read the books before they make these movies...
Arabian: Penny02 - Face Palmarabian on October 25th, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC)
Very true. Sigh.
(Anonymous) on January 1st, 2013 02:27 am (UTC)
Yes!!!!!! You hit the nail on the head with that one. I have been searching the web to see if anyone else saw such a glaringly obvious failing in the casting. I could not enjoy the relationship between Newland and Ellen at all because of it, and honestly it ruined the entire screen adaptation for me. Michelle Pfeiffer was the worst possible choice for that role.
Arabian: Stefan02arabian on January 1st, 2013 03:26 am (UTC)
I think Ryder was not far off from Pfeiffer, but yeah, both were just really bad casting choices. It was just such a complete misread of the book. I imagine that literature teachers across the country were pulling their hair out.

Nice to see I'm not the only one frustrated by it.