This is the movie review I said I would do last week. (I wish I had an excuse better then “the heat is messing with my head”. Seriously, how long before autumn?) It is a made-for-tv adaptation of the Danielle Steel novel of the same name, starring Stephanie Beacham, Josie Bisset, Ben Browder, Gary Collins, Christopher Plummer and Linda Purl.
I avoided specific plot details in my review of the book, but a large portion of this review is going to be compare and contrast, so be warned: spoilers ahead for both book and movie.
I thought that the tv was a good adaptation of the tone of the novel, and that in many ways it improved the plot by treading the stories together better then the novel did. Some of the modifications were probably also partially motivated by the need for more dramatic tension, and by the need to work with the frame of television.
The story of Bill (Ben Browder) was the one that changed the least, in my opinion, because it needed the least change. It was plenty dramatic from the start: the up and coming actor who is secretly married to a former child star and current drug addict, his secret is exposed when his wife in killed and he is the prime suspect. The only modification here is that, in the novel, the character testimony that turns the tide for Bill during his trial is given by his agent, and in the movie, it is delivered by producer Mel. I don’t think the result is quite as effective, but when you have a choice between giving a juicy monologue to a secondary character and giving it to Christopher Plummer, I guess you give it to Christopher Plummer.
Speaking of Mr Plummer, his role as the producer of the primetime soap Manhattan is mostly unchanged from what it was in the novel. His backstory is the same: after his family died in a plane crash, he became a workaholic who is just beginning to regain a taste for life. The only changes is the spelling of his name (from the novel Weschler to the movie Wexler) and the addition of a strong element of jealousy, on his side, in his relationship with Sabina (Stephanie Beacham) for the sake of dramatic tension.
The story of Sabina is also unchanged: she is still the single mother of a sick child, trying to keep him out of the Hollywood circus. It is her character that changed. Novel Sabina was … I’m trying to think of a way to put this that isn’t the B word. She’s misogynistic, I suppose. She is very warm and friendly with all the men that she comes in contact with, and she treats all the women like dirt, even (or should I say especially) her co-workers. Movie Sabina is more professional, more egalitarian, and less irritating.
The story of Jane (Linda Purl) and her abusive husband is solved in one chapter in the novel, but is stretched out to cover most of the movie. The movie version of the story is also much more graphically abusive and violent, and it conclude with a confrontation at gunpoint. (Although, to be completely honest, a confrontation at gunpoint is also how this story ends in the novel, just in a very different way.)
The backstory of Zach (Gary Collins) is completely modified. In the novel, he is a sexual abuse victim who so completely internalized what happened to him that he’s convinced that he’s gay and therefore can’t have a romantic relationship with Jane no matter how much he wants to. (Because being bisexual, or anywhere else in the queer spectrum, was apparently not an option in 1985, added she sarcastically.) In the movie, he is the victim of a pair of con artists, blackmailed over his sex tape with a supposed minor. This gives him the opportunity to have a story over the course of the movie, independently of his romance with Jane.
Finally, there is Gabby (Josie Bisset), whose story was actually cut short, if you can believe it. The essentials are the same, but there is less meat around the bone, so to speak. In the novel, there was much more interaction with her parents, and more description of how down-to-earth and anti-money she is. Maybe someone realized that if someone really wants to make a statement reading “I am rich against my will and I want to get away from the traps of my extensive fortune and work on my art”, they don’t go to Hollywood; they go to Broadway.
I saw this movie on vhs, years ago. Actually, I saw the french translation of this movie on vhs years ago. The video store up the street from my parents house (which of course as closed since) had a row full of Danielle Steel adaptation, and I watched more of them then I remember, probably more then I should have, but what the hell. I had fond memories of this adaptation, and I was hoping that it would hold up to a second viewing. It did. The aesthetics are so very nineties, but those happens to be the aesthetics of my childhood, and they bring a sense of nostalgia. They also bring a sense of realism, in a strange way. This kind of story could never happen in this day an age. Good luck trying to keep any of the secrets those actors are keeping from the Internet, especially if/when they get really famous.
So the take-away here is, if you liked the book, or if you like slightly date movies about actors and Hollywood that are more shiny then realistic (the movies, not the actors… although both probably apply) then you will probably like the movie.