Illustration from A selection of 150 Plates from Sowerby's Thesaurus Conchyliorum or Genera of Shells, by G.B. Sowerby, 1840
For our first anniversary, my wife and I went on a romantic weekend trip up into the mountains where we did as most romantically minded couples do - we went to a surplus bookstore at an outlet mall. I bought a copy of a book that I was planning to use to woo my wife into a belated consumation of our marriage relationship - I'm not sure why I picked a book called Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. If I thought that reading a book aloud would be romantic, this book by David Foster Wallace was a poor choice for several reasons. First, there's the matter of the book's content. Second, there's Wallace's writing style, which does not accommodate being read out loud, using devices like run-on sentences, footnotes, and text in nested brackets. I think I ended up reading "Adult World" to her, a short story about a woman's discovery of her husband's pornography addiction. It doesn't get much more romantic than that!
When I heard that Jim from The Office (or "John Krasinski" as some people call him) was making a movie adaptation of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, I thought that it sounded like a terrible idea. And I know a little something about terrible ideas (see above). First of all, making a movie of an anthology seems like an odd choice. Second, the prose of David Foster Wallace is not "cinematic" because of some of the devices he uses. In short, I thought the movie would be about as successful as my attempt to read the book aloud to my wife. But it's not bad, actually. It's not the best movie I saw at Sundance this year, but it's pretty close.
Krasinski wrote the screenplay himself, directed the adaptation, and plays a small role as one of the titular hideous men. His effort to turn the anthology into a filmable script is a pretty impressive accomplishment itself. Kransinski sees Wallace's work as a treatise on Feminism - a set of stories showing the reaction of modern men to the ideas of Feminism. So he uses this as the setup for the movie - Sara (Julianne Nicholson) is a grad student writing a thesis about the effects of Feminism on modern men. This research project requires that she interview a serious of men, but it also colors her interactions with her friends, her colleagues, and her ex, Ryan (Krasinski).
Sara isn't much of a character - she represents the audience and moves the story along. The meat of the movie is in the series of monologues delivered by various actors, including Will Forte, Ben Shenkman, Josh Charles, Bobby Cannavale, and (for some reason) Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. Maybe he was in a contest with his fiancee Zooey Deschanel to see who could get a part in the better movie at Sundance this year. Gibbard wins. Some of the monologues are delivered in a straightforward manner at an interview table, while others are staged elaborately or in a more disjointed fashion. Some of these devices, like jumping between scenes of Josh Charles giving the same rehearsed breakup speech to a dozen different women, are successful and evoke some of Wallace's writing style. Some are less successful, but the movie stays interesting without getting too gimmicky. And the prose really shines through, which is what Kransinski is really trying to accomplish here. The actors do a good job of not getting in the way of the voices of the original stories.
I think that John Krasinski succeeded in doing what he set out to do with Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, but that's not to say that it's a movie with any kind of broad appeal. But he did make a movie that is loyal to Wallace's work, and his love of the source material really comes through. At the very least, I would recommend this to fans of Wallace's writing. Wallace passed away too soon (less than a year ago) and it's nice to see a loving tribute like this to a writer who meant a lot to a lot of people.
"Women Help to Create the Kind of Men They Despise" by Lambchop