Thursday, June 11, 2015

Gone Girl

I was going to announce the availability of the next Nick Forte novel today, but events intervened and it’s not ready. I’ll get to it. In the meantime, I did watch a movie...

The Beloved Spouse and I watched Gone Girl over the weekend. Based on what I’d heard, I didn’t think it was going to appeal to me much, but I had no idea how little, or what a reaction I’d have.

Full disclosure: I have not read the book; I am writing only of the film. How different they are I can’t say, but Gillian Flynn adapted the screenplay from her novel, so I’m guessing the parts she thought most important were in there.

What struck me throughout was how such a phenomenal success—both in print and on film
—broke two allegedly sacrosanct elements of a popular story. First—and the one that wore most heavily on the viewing, as it lasted forever—was the dearth of characters to give a shit about. Nick’s a douche who comes off as the warm and fuzzy member of the family, as Amy is a complete psycho evil bitch. Tyler Perry does a great job as the lawyer, but the character is a smarmy lizard. The media people—well, they were the media; ‘nuff said about that. The only two characters with appreciable screen time one could warm up to at all were Nick’s sister Margo, and the local police detective who first caught the case. Not that it had to be a morality play, but damn. Even if there’s no one to root for, give me someone to care about.

The other thing missing was an ending. (Spoiler alert.) All we’re left with is the promise of 18 more years of this sick beyond dysfunctional bullshit. Those who know me are well aware I am not an advocate of sunshine and rainbows Hollywood endings, but Jesus Chris, people. I deserved more from the two-and-a-half hours I invested than this.

What struck me most on reflection is how much the story reminded me of something that could have been inspired by Donald Maass’s book, How to Write the Breakout Novel. I read the book twice—I’m certainly not against novelists breaking out, especially me—and threw it away, as its primary focus struck me as teaching me to write books I wouldn’t read. (The book was also literally falling apart, not a tribute to its poublisher.) What I remember most is Maass’s constant reminders to “raise the stakes,” which, based on breakouts and bestsellers I’d been reading, meant beyond plausibility. Gone Girl definitely has the “beyond plausibility” aspect under control. Amy’s scheme is worthy of the most Rube Goldberg-ian “traditional mystery” plot, so much so I stopped caring halfway through and resigned myself to hoping for a clever twist at the end. Which never came. (No, it wasn’t that slick. Mostly it was a reverse Presumed Innocent.)

What Gone Girl is, essentially, is the anti-Mad Max: Fury Road. Where men’s rights activists’ heads explode over how strong the Charlize Theron character is, they must get together and jack off until their arms cramp to watch Amy, who personifies everything they’d like people to think a woman is. I’m going to say I just don’t get how Gone Girl became so popular. I have ideas, but, if I’m right, that leads me to conclusions about people I’d rather not have.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I was really hoping she would change the ending, which has to alert you to the possibility that severe child abuse will occur. How could two people like that not be psychologically abusive parents.

Dana King said...

Holy crap. I was so turned off by the rest of it, I didn't even consider that. I got wrapped up in how many story elements I didn't like, I forgot to consider it as something that was happening to real people. Which, in retrospect, doesn't say much for the story telling, either.

Mike Dennis said...

I fully concur, Dana. This is what happens when you get one of those books that "everybody's reading". Why are they reading it? Because "everybody else is". So the publisher sells a shitload of books and you can see people reading it on the subway and in Central Park (notice the New York-centricity here -- nowhere else matters).

So it eventually gets the attention of movie people who wouldn't know a great book if it hit them in the face. The movie gets made, and this draws all the people who didn't read the book, yet SAW "everyone" reading it on the subway. They know instinctively it must be great because "everybody" was reading it last year, so … they pony up to see the movie. It's the lemming concept in action.

Dana King said...

I hope you're right. The only other explanation I can come up with is that this is the kind of thing people like as popular, escapist, entertainment. Given the popularity of other recent and current phenomena (50 SHADES OF GREY, GAME OF THRONES), that's disconcerting, at least to me.

Joe Clifford said...

Funny how this works, ain't it? If I listed my Top Ten Most Perfect Books Ever, Gone Girl is on that list. The movie is good, IMO, but not like the book. But your criticism, Dana, is the one I see most voiced. And you're right: by conventional standards, Flynn breaks a cardinal rule (Amy and Nick aren't any more likable in the book!). Here's what I think happened. 1.) Flynn made a very conscious decision with her "unlikable" characters, and it's a risky move for you and I to make (how many times do we hear THAT from editors/publishers?). Here, though, I felt Flynn went for the home run, and, yes, that means losing a lot of readers. But obviously she gained many, many more. The novel works for me (and I've dissected it countless times) because of that authority. When I picked up the book, I wanted to hate it. Very much. I hated all the praise it was getting, and wanted to feel, as a writer, like, Hey, I can do this! The story I always tell is Chapters 1 - 4, I was, like, "I can do this!" By Chapter 5 I was like, "No. I can't do this." Here's why: the two person narration, which the book employs. One by Amy, one by Nick (not in that order). After each section I found myself thinking two things: 1.) I hate this character, and 2.) I HAVE to find out what happens next. So much so that I often considered skipping the next 1st person narration. I never did. Which was a good thing. Because after the next person's section, I'd say, 1.) I hate this character MORE, and 2.) I HAVE to find out what happens! Of course art is selective. Yes, it sold millions, but so did 50 Shades. I will defend GG to the death, and for the life of me I can't figure out the 50 Shades thing. Though, admittedly, I've only read sections, but the prose is so, so, so terrible. Still, can millions be wrong? Well, probably. Y'know, WWII and stuff. Good piece!