Jeffrey Eugenides is one of my favourite authors. I’ve read all his books (he doesn’t have many, but still), and I consider Middlesex to be one of my all-time favourites. I went to see him speak when he came to Toronto last year. In my eyes, he’s pretty much a rock star.
So, knowing all this, you’ll forgive me for watching the poorly reviewed film The Switch. I swear I only watched it because it was based on a short story Eugenides wrote for the New Yorker entitled “Baster”. Even though I love Jason Bateman, I would never have watched this movie if Eugenides wasn’t listed as a writer on it.
But despite all the negative reviews and the super corny trailer, I didn’t think the movie was that bad. I’ve definitely seen worse, although perhaps I shouldn’t admit that. I was curious what Eugenides thought of the movie so I did a little searching and found this interview he did back in 2010. His response pretty much says it all:
“Baster,” a story you published in the magazine in 1996, has been adapted for the screen and will be released in August as “The Switch,” with Jennifer Anniston and Jason Bateman. Sofia Coppola, of course, directed an adaption of your first novel, “The Virgin Suicides,” in 1999. Have you seen “The Switch”? What’s it like, in general, to think about your work taking on another, cinematic, life?
The fact that the movie has a different title than the story might give you some idea of how close a correspondence exists between the two. The plot of my story takes up the first twenty or thirty minutes of the film. From there, the screenwriter developed an entirely different outcome. “Baster” is merely the premise of the film. But even that’s not quite true. My story is about an unattractive man who’s in love with a beautiful woman. It deals, comedically, with the Darwinist question: is it better to be good-looking or clever? Now,Jason Bateman isn’t unattractive. The casting went in the other direction, as they say out in Hollywood, and the movie followed it. You might say that “Baster” is to “The Switch” what cello is to cellophane.
You want to know if this bothers me, I think. I’m not sure. I don’t mind that they extended the storyline. I understand the need for that. “Baster” just doesn’t contain enough plot for a feature-length movie. What I mind more (though I don’t really mind, I don’t really care all that much, to be honest—it’s just a movie) is that the story was about one thing and the film is about another.
Making movies is a fragile enterprise. You might have a wonderful script but not be able to cast an appropriate actor to play the lead. Then you get another actor and you have to re-write the script for him or her. As a novelist, I pity film directors their lack of autonomy. And I’m sure film directors pity just about everything about novelists.
Yikes. I wonder if we’ll see another Eugenides adaptation anytime soon.