Has a movie ever adapted a Great Work of Literature by satirizing the conventions of Great Works of Literature, and their #OscarBaity translations?
I’m not talking about the likes of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, which was already a satire. I’m looking for a drama on the page transformed into comedy on screen.
Dial up the exaggerated style of expression a single notch, and The Goldfinch — a coming-of-age (GREAT WORK OF LITERATURE!), time-hopping (GREAT WORK!!), geographically-sprawling (GREAT!!!!) tale about a dude named Theodore Decker (NAMES DON’T GET MORE GREAT WORK OF LITERATUREY THAN THAT) — would be there. It goes through all the cliche genre-motions, with obligatory stretches of #MiseryPorn to boot, achieving the triple crown of being overly self-conscious, without being self -aware, yet remaining ridiculously self-serious. AND OF COURSE IT STARTS WITH SNIPPETS OF THE CLIMAX. A myriad of tired devices are thrown at us like a monkey indiscriminately flinging the shit of others around. It completely loses the plot, or at least it was lost on me in this structural nightmare.
The flick’s almost a goldmine of unintentional comedy…if only it weren’t so fucking long and boring. Granted, a bloated, bloviating length is a key ingredient in this send-up stew, but sustaining the yucks for two (!) and (!) a (!) half (!) hours (!!!!!!) calls for more than irreverent mocking. The choice of material given the treatment would be crucial, because this sort of clowning tends to succeed when it’s related to the original’s themes, shedding new light on elements already contained therein. Basically, the spoof could lean into the artifice’s aforementioned self-seriousness with a knowing wink. The scene in The Goldfinch that comes closet: when he hears of dismal news…while acid-tripping, a discombobulating inverse of how such scenes of sorrow usually play out.
I’m not asking for an anachronistic redux like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Stick to the source material without any major additions; the difference would reside in how it’s translated stylistically. Ideally, it’d tap into what’s already there, bringing insights to the fore more evident in a comic light. Basically, a full-length version of the honest trailers/posters series.
There are clear obstacles to this concept. It would probably have to be a classic novel, unless the rights-holding author was un-precious about their work, understanding that quality adaptations deviate from their inspiration by adding their own voices to the equation (sounds like my preferred stage revivals!). They’d also have to be OK running the risk of newcomers assuming their experience is an accurate reflection of the original.
And I guess pre-existing fans could be offended? Oh, guess it shouldn’t be done then, BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY ART SHOULD PANDER TO ITS BASE!!!
To end on a more measured, analytical take: cinematic adaptations of prose should be mindful that excerpting the text verbatim can force transparent “telling” into a “showing” medium. Voiceovers are the most common culprits. Lines that read as profound on the page can sound pretentious on screen, outside of their intended context.
Again: it’s not what, but how.