On Tuesday, Dreamworks Studios announced that it was picking up the film rights to the New York Times Best Selling debut novel from Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor and Park.
Lately, YA fiction to film has been all the rage in Hollywood, from Veronica Roth’s Divergent, to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. When Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park first hit shelves in 2013, reviews hailed it as a “a beautiful, haunting love story” for young adults. Is this book for everyone? Of course not, few books are. This writer picked it up after blowing through Rowell’s Fangirl, and loved every moment. My roommate hated it. Though still being enjoyable, Eleanor and Park has a far different feel from Fangirl. And really, that’s just fine.
Done correctly, there are several components of Eleanor and Park that would be refreshingly novel to see in a big hollywood film. Luckily, for fans of the book, Dreamworks seems to understand the draw and sheer relatability of Rowell’s novel. In a statement, Holly Bario, Dreamworks President of Production said,
“Every girl who has read it says, ‘That was me in high school, or that was me in 7th grade. It reminded all of us of our own sort of awkwardness, or family dysfunction…It’s not the typical story where the ugly duckling is in love with the hot guy. They’re both trying to find their way. They’re both outcasts.”
Exactly. While film adaptations of beloved Young Adult literature are always a risk, here’s 6 reasons why those of us at Larkable are cautiously excited at the prospect of an Eleanor and Park movie.
1) Rainbow Rowell is writing the screenplay.
With a few notable exceptions, most times an author’s level of involvement with a movie adaptation is a good indicator of how loyal the adaptation will be in general. It’s a testament to Dreamworks love of the Rowell’s story and vision, that they specifically want her to write the screenplay. It seems safe to say, they want to remain as true to the original work as possible. Currently, Rowell is in the middle of writing her fourth book, Landlines, so the studio has announced that they’re patiently waiting for Rowell to complete her novel before taking on this new project. Wow. That almost seems too good to be true.
As for Rowell, she’s excited at the prospect. The author told MTV,
“I have never written a screenplay…But I had never written a book before I wrote a book. I’m going to do my best … I think there’s a really good chance I’m good at it….When I’m writing I visualize my books as if they’re movies, sometimes to my own detriment. My first editor would say, ‘You can’t just fade to black here, it’s not a movie.’ I think very soundtrack-y, so when I’m writing them I often think of them as if I’m watching a movie. It’s something that I can always imagine.”
2) She’s pushing for a female director.
Rowell told MTVnews that she would ideally love for a women to come in and make the story her own. This is a concept Larkable can entirely stand behind…except that Rowell threw out Twilight’s Catherine Hardwicke as a suggestion.
While 13, and other films by Hardwicke, were critically acclaimed — Twilight was not one of them. Everyone remember that hideous blue film over everything? Or the overly dramatic tone she took for telling Bella Swan’s story? No. It’s only this writer’s personal opinion but please, god, no. Eleanor and Park is a beautiful story, but there’s also an element of shockingly realistic teen angst and melodrama to it. When it comes to telling novel, coming-of-age tales, Hardwicke excels. When it comes to teenage love affairs, Hardwicke’s track record isn’t great. Personally, I would love to see a different female director take the lead on this one — Jerusha Hess, would be a fantastic choice.
3) The Story Defies Gender Stereotypes
We have Park, a slight half-Korean boy who has never loved sports or fighting, despite his dad’s insistence that he take martial arts. He balks at Macho Masculinity and wears eyeliner because he likes how it looks. It doesn’t make him less of a guy, and it doesn’t make his girlfriend find him any less attractive. That’s a pretty cool statement, if I say so myself.
As for Eleanor, she’s not the kind of girl who could be played by any of Hollywood’s svelte It Girls by any stretch of the imagination. Park falls in love with a chubby red head (meanly dubbed “Big Red” by the kids on the bus), she wears baggy thrift store finds, and vanilla extract in lieu of perfume. She can’t afford batteries or even a toothbrush, so forget wearing any kind of make-up. Not that she necessarily would if she could anyways. At one point in the book, Park’s mom, a Mary Kay consultant, gives Eleanor a makeover and Eleanor hates it, insisting her face looks like a lie. Though that may, in some part, come from some severe, rightly earned, self-esteem issues. Regardless, Eleanor is no Tris Prior or Bella Swan. And she could never be played by Kristen Stewart or Shailene Woodley or even Jennifer Lawrence (as much as we love her).
As previously stated, Park is half-Korean. It’s an observation made in the book that the lack of asian representation in the media meant that Park, a midwest kid, was slightly isolated from his peers as a result of his ethnicity. Surrounded by white kids, Park never thought anyone would find him attractive because there weren’t any attractive asian guys in the movies or on television. And it’s a highly unfortunate fact that such a statement still rings true in today’s media. Despite the success of actors like Harold and Kumar‘s John Cho, many leading protagonists in the media are still ripped, white guys with striking blue eyes and long necks….I love Benedict Cumberbatch as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t mean Hollywood couldn’t stand to add some serious diversity. Assuming Rainbow Rowell gets her way in casting unknowns to play Eleanor and Park, here’s one more opportunity to see a leading role go to a breakout POC.
5) The Simple Yet Realistic Nature of their Obstacles
John Green summed this one up best in his review of Eleanor and Park for the New York Times.
“Every romance has its obstacle: I have another boyfriend; my parents say we can’t; you’re a vampire and I’m not; etc. But the obstacle in “Eleanor & Park” is simply the world. The world cannot stomach a relationship between a good-looking Korean kid and Big Red. The world cannot allow Eleanor a boyfriend of any kind, because she’s poor and fat and dresses funny. The world cannot allow Park a girlfriend because he likes wearing eyeliner, and everyone knows that’s gay. The world is the obstacle, as it always is when you’re 16 and truly in love. Park’s parents — two of the best-drawn adults I can remember in a young adult novel — serve as evidence that sometimes love conquers the world, and Eleanor’s family is a reminder that sometimes it doesn’t. As for Eleanor and Park . . . well, I won’t spoil it.”
6) The Soundtrack Will Probably Be Phenomenal.
Next to comic books, music is one of the biggest connections our protagonists bond over. Park is obsessed with the alternative rock of the 80’s and introduces Eleanor to The Smiths and Joy Division, among many others. This movie wouldn’t be complete without those songs on the soundtrack. Rowell also confessed to MTV that her dream would be for The Mountain Goats, who made up her entire writing playlist, to create the soundtrack for the film. We’d be okay with that avenue as well.
Follow Rainbow Rowell on twitter to hear what she has to say about the film! Dreamworks hopes to start production in 2015.