Literary phenoms always attracted movie star groupies. But lately it's not just the geek-glasses-wearing thespians flocking to book readings and springing for the rights to experimental titles with about as much chance of turning up in your Netflix queue as an episode of an HBO show. No, those folks are too busy padding their bank accounts playing villains in superhero movies to fund stints on the London stage.
Instead, it’s golden haired A-Listers like Brad Pitt and now Reese Witherspoon directing traffic at the intersection of books and film, keeping a watchful eye out for the publishing world’s hot new sensations. Pitt’s Plan B production company has spent the past seven years filling its slate with such high-profile tomes as A Mighty Heart, Killing Them Softly, and Eat, Pray, Love. And now Witherspoon’s producing outfit, Pacific Standard Time, has followed suit, snatching up the movie rights to a slew of acclaimed female-driven narratives including Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Sheryl Strayed’s Wild and Catherine Hanrahan’s Lost Girls and Love Hotels.
This week, Witherspoon added another promising title to her shelf when she optioned the rights to J. Courtney Sullivan’s soon-to-be-published novel, The Engagements. Due out in June, The Engagements fashions itself as an epic romance spanning nearly a century’s worth of love lost and found, all connected by the legacy of one diamond. The novel tracks an ensemble of characters in various states of ardor and alienation while also exploring how diamonds came to promise everlasting love or a least a girl’s best friend.
Sullivan populated her two previous novels, Maine and Commencement, with multiple generations of vividly original characters, establishing herself as a unique talent with the chops to pull off this ambitious conceit with the subtlety and historic perspicacity necessary to counterbalance the high potential for Nicholas Sparks-ian sentimentality.
However, the combination of diamonds, romance, and an ensemble cast places the big-screen iteration of the book in a category teeming with bad movies. Unless Witherspoon and co. tap a Robert Altman-esque filmmaker, there is a high risk of this taking the shape of, at best, Richard Curtis’ “Love Actually.” Worst case scenario: See the works of Garry Marshall.
Of course, movie history is filled with fantastic examples of successful ensemble adaptations, the most recent of which is “The Help.” However, the love story element and the schmaltz that goes along with the mere mention of diamonds raises the degree of difficulty in this big screen literary translation significantly. However, we’ll remain optimistic that Witherspoon will tap a director with the ascerbic sensibility to pull it off. Nicole Holofcener tops our list followed by...well no one. Who would you hire for the gig?