Kristen Wiig in ‘Hateship Loveship’/Image © IFC Films
When it comes to finding source material, Hollywood has no problem mining pretty much the entire spectrum of the written word. Novels? Yep. Memoirs? Sure. Comic books? Oh, yeah! But short story collections? Eh, not so much. Maybe it's the complexity of balancing multiple storylines and plots interconnected by themes, settings, or characters, but the concept of adapting a celebrated or popular tome of tales into a movie just doesn't seem to appeal to many filmmakers.
And yet, the idea of adapting a short story collection is very much something of the current moment. This Friday an adaption of trailblazing short story author Alice Munro's title story from her beloved 2001 collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage hits theaters. Meanwhile, next month will see the release of an adaptation of James Franco's 2010 short story collection, Palo Alto, starting Emma Roberts and Franco - which is also employing what is probably the weirdest/most relevant publicity stunt in recent memory.
Both instances got us wondering about just how often a specific volume of short stories has been brought to the big screen, so we hit the bookshelves and DVD racks looking for any and all collections that had been adapted to film over the years. Here's what we found.
The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes (1990)
When this breakout collection was first published, its subject matter exploring lurid absurdity in suburbia earned Homes heaps of critical praise. At the time, her tales depicting crack-smoking suburbanites, euthanasia, and an adolescent fantasizing about a sexual relationship with his little sister's Barbie doll (among other things) were considered groundbreaking; by the time film version starting Glenn Close and Dermot Mulroney came out a decade later it was all well-worn territory. The film's attempt to tie all the stories together in an interconnected car crash scene (a full three years before Paul Haggis' Oscar-winning "Crash") ultimately only muddled the entire film.
Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson (1992)
Using lyrics from the Velvet Underground song "Heroin" pretty much alerts the reader to one of the central themes of this collection. And while heavy drug use and its chaotic effects are featured throughout most of the stories, a shiftless narrator seemingly unites all of them. It's an aspect that fuels plenty novel-or-stories debates in contemporary American lit classes and lends the book a more likely route to movie adaption. The movie, staring Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton, was released in 1999 and was well received by critics, earning spots on many best-of-the-year lists.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (1951)
To put together his collection of previously published shorts, Bradbury created a fresh framing device for the book: the eponymous man, whose tattoos match with each story. The book is considered an influential milestone in twentieth-century short science fiction. The movie that came out in 1969 starring Rob Steiger? Not so much. While critics today are kind enough to at least give the film credit for capturing the counterculture attitudes of the late 1960s, most rate its adaptation of three of the book's eighteen tales as pretty lackluster.
The Acid House by Irvine Welsh (1994)
Scottish author Irvine Welsh followed up his debut novel, Trainspotting, with this collection of short fiction featuring the same vulgar sensibility yet a more fantastical edge. The 1998 film version, which has become something of a cult classic over the years, only featured three of the book's many stories, but does include the two most notorious - one about a footballer turned into a fly by an angry (and extremely foulmouthed) God and the other about a druggie who accidentally manages to switch bodies with a baby.
Big Bad Love by Larry Brown (1990)
A prominent example of so-called "Grit Lit," which mixed tales of alcoholism and blue-collar sensibility, firefighter-turned-author Brown is considered by many to be Mississippi's version of Raymond Carver. Brown's second collection was adapted by actor Arliss Howard, who wrote, directed, and starred in the 2001 film (he also cast his wife, Debra Winger, as his character's estranged wife). Although most of the movie draws from the book's final story, "92 days," it includes elements and aspects from the other stories.
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max (2006)
Max, a "writer" who gained fame by bragging about his drunken exploits and sexual encounters on his popular website, compiled several of his autobiographical tales into a book, which became a New York Times bestseller. Despite the fact that his seemingly low opinion of women (as well as his high opinion of himself) have actually led people to protest his public appearances, Max was able to produce a film version of his bestselling book. It was considered one of the worst movies of 2009.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (1950)
One of the most influential science-fiction writers of the twentieth century, Asimov is considered to be what's known as a "hard science fiction" writer, meaning his work is heavily based on actual science. His first short story collection explores themes of consciousness, humanity, and mortality in a larger fictionalized future populated by people and robots. The long anticipated film version, which came out over fifty years after the book's publication and stars Will Smith, bears little resemblance to the source material. Some characters are similar, and Asimov's famed "three laws of robotics" is a major part of the film, but the plot itself has so little to do with the book that the filmmakers ended up crediting it as "suggested by" (as opposed to "based on") I, Robot. Critics panned the film and Asimov fans were infuriated by it.
The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis (1994)
In the world of Ellis fans, The Informers is a bit of a peculiarity. Not only is it the novelist's only short story collection, but it was also a project that came about as he was working on his novel Glamorama, which almost gives it the feel of a writer in transition. The stories (which explore wealth, hedonism, drugs, child abduction, sex ... and vampires) feature interconnected characters and occur in the same continuity. You would think such overall narrative structure would lend itself easily to a film adaptation, but the end result (notably missing the vampires) - which Ellis reportedly worked on the early draft of - was not well received by audiences or critics.
Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner by F.X. Toole (2000)
Toole was the pen name for boxing manager Jerry Boyd. According to legend, Boyd began writing fiction while working gigs as a "cutman," the person who treats boxers' wounds in between rounds during fights. He published his first short story in a small literary magazine, which caught the eye of an agent and eventually led to his first book, a collection of short stories about boxing, which was published when Boyd was sixty-nine. He died two years later. Rope Burns was eventually adapted into Clint Eastwood's Academy Award-winning "Million Dollar Baby."