I remember having a conversation with someone about the movie Bombshell. They raved about how good it was, while I said it was a lousy movie. They countered with “but the story (it was about the sexual harassment charges at Fox). I said that they were judging the movie based on what it was about: they hadn’t bothered to see that the movie was a muddled mess, with stilted dialogue and overacting at every turn.

How many times does a brilliant story make a lousy movie or book?

When you are making a movie or writing a book, having a good plot is only as good as its execution. If you can’t get the audience to see what you want, feel what you want, you are going to have a stinker of an end product.

I notice that in blog posts as well, when I’m trying to retell something that happened in my life- sometimes I just can’t get the point across. How you tell the story is more important than what the story is.

I used Bombshell as an example of something that was tabloid ready, but executed ineffectually. What are other examples of things that should have been better based on what they were based on?

As I write this post, I am debating on whether or not I should see The Storied Life of AJ Fikry. I loved the book, but the Rotten Tomatoes score is hovering in the low teens. I rarely see anything below a 75%…will I be disappointed in seeing an less than stellar recreation of a book that I loved?

43 thoughts on “When the product stinks

  1. Simple answer, yes. I don’t think you can go in with lowered expectations after reading a great book. It won’t ever be the same. Logically you know that but you still want the same aspects you found to love in the book to be there. Likely they won’t be.

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    1. Though, funnily enough, I saw Fikry, and admit it was a very average movie, I was ok with it. I guess going in with really really really low expectations can pay off

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  2. Very true. Sometimes what seemed like the perfect story to tell just doesn’t work as a script or a novel. Writing is an art form. And sometimes art is better expressed through dance, in a painting, through music etc. Or perhaps it just needs the right story teller.. So often times what just seems like nothing turns into a wonderful story and what you think would be a monumental story just doesn’t work. But it might if someone else takes your idea and runs with it. I think perhaps writers need to know their limitations. Not every story is yours to tell.

    I didn’t see the film. But I’ve watched many films that did not do justice to the book. So often times art needs another format to reveal itself to be appreciated .

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      1. I think that’s probably true.
        I also find that sometimes it’s the person telling the story. when my youngest son and I chat I’ll be trying to explain something to him and I’m having difficulty expressing it the way I want. And then my son will ask… “Are you trying to say … bla bla bla “ And instantly he articulates my comments and thoughts into in a more picturesque summary of what I was trying to express. He has a mastery of language that is extraordinary and much more precise than my skills. So I often realize that his vision is clearer than mine. He’s wording far superior to my skill set. So while some stories can’t be told. Others just need a better story teller.

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  3. When I read your post, I thought of one of my favorite Robert Frost quotes: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” A movie or writer can “tell” all it wants, but if it doesn’t “show” (meaning, make the audience/reader feel something) the story will never work. It will fall flat. I recall having the same feeling about Bombshell. It was okay, but nothing that made me stand up and say, yes, this is a great story. Lots ho-hum.

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  4. “Echo in the Canyon” disappointed me. I remember walking out of the theater and hearing people rave about it, while my husband and I were talking about how disappointed we were. Here’s what it was supposed to be about: “A look at the roots of the historic music scene in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon featuring the music of iconic groups such as The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and the Papas.” Instead it was Bob Dylan’s son Jakob performing covers of those great bands.

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      1. I wanted more about the history of the musicians. I wanted original music and less of the covers. It wasn’t a terrible movie, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. FYI, I love the Mamas and the Papas. John Phillips had a home in our old neighborhood.

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      2. I totally understand that. I saw a doc aboit Patricia Highsmith recently. I was disappointed because it didn’t explore enough as far as I was concerned

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  5. True, but sometimes the movie is better than the book. I read the 1958 novella Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, and am sure hoping the movie is better than the book, which described Mrs. Harris as a “grotesque” vision in her Dior gown!

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  6. I have yet to see a movie where I can say that it was better than the book! There is just so much more detail that can go into a book. Plus I remember reading someone’s point about why we love the book more than the movie that I thought was good. Its because we are playing our own movie in our head as we read the book. We are picturing the characters and adding to them what we want to, adding our own imagination into the book. How can a movie compete with our imagination?
    But yes I agree with your post, not everything can be made into a movie. It takes more than a good plot.

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  7. I didn’t even know they made a movie of AJ Fikry.

    There are plenty of books I’ve that should have been good based on the synopsis, but weren’t for whatever reason. I can’t think of specific book-to-movie adaptations at the moment, though. At least not ones I’ve seen. But there are plenty where the director just didn’t quite get the point of the book, and that came through in the movie.

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  8. Do you see a film based on the critics or the audience on rotten tomatoes ? I strictly use the audience score, that score tends to be far more accurate to me. I’d say, I was highly recommended a film that is part of the criterion collection and as much as I loved the cast, Anatomy of a murder was a 2hr 40 min film that felt like 5 hrs and resolved to nothing.

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    1. I go by critics review mainly. The only time I really look at audience is for a movie I’m seeing no matter what, like the Robert’s/Clooney movie this weekend. I always reason that the public kept The Love Boat on the air for years…😆

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      1. I personally stopped trusting critics when Robin Williams Patch Adams was deemed crap and Kubrics Last Eyes wide shut was deemed a masterpiece. Patch Adams was a decebt flick, eyes wide shut was utter garbage.

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  9. I often balk at writing a blog post because I recognize it could be handled better if I possessed the talent (and, mostly, the time.) I’ll bet laziness crops up often at creation of films: the laziness to put in more effort since they know they’ll profit anyway.

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  10. There’s one author who always has an interesting premise, moral question or the like as the central aspect of their novels. But I can’t read any more of their work as it’s just a meh experience. I wish they could pass some of their great ideas onto better writers, or maybe I mean someone I find more enjoyable to read.

    But if you really want to see that film, wait a while until the book and your experience of it isn’t so clear in your mind. I read Doctor Zhivago and then went to see the film. It didn’t work for me because Omar Shariff simply wasn’t how I saw Zhivago (his portrayal, not how he looked to be clear). I saw it again 15 years later, thoroughly the film. Of course, you may not be prepared to wait quite that long 😉

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