I have yet to crack the spine on Richard Price’s Lush Life, but when I see Walter Kirn calling it Chandler by way of Bellows, I want to shut out the world for a week and savor each of the novel’s 455 pages. Price has been building to a literary masterpiece for decades, coming ever so close with the intermittently brilliant Clockers, The Wanderers and Freedomland. It’s about time he put it all together.
Freedomland was the last of his tomes to hit the big screen, and while it read like an HBO miniseries, the extremely promising material got turned into a simplified message movie under the direction of Revolution Studios founder Joe Roth (when Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise is your best film, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your artistic inclinations). Though Price, as the screenwriter, must bear some of the blame for paring down what was so nuanced and expansive on the page, I have to wonder if he simply gave up once he realized that Roth couldn’t do his novel justice; it’s an astonishingly soulless picture.
Price isn’t above hacking it out for a paycheck (he took a screenplay credit on Shaft), but I’ve a feeling he’s going to pour himself into the adaptation of Lush Life. A saga of Lower East Side gentrification, murder and racial discord, Lush Life sounds like the perfect, New York City-set complement to Price’s stellar work on The Wire. As Manhattan is bled dry of its rough-and-tumble moxie, it’s important that someone gets its dying days committed to the page and the screen. Price is certainly the ideal writer, but who’s the ideal director? Martin Scorsese? Spike Lee? James Gray?
It’s up to Miramax and producer Scott Rudin to make sure Price’s words find an eloquent translator this time out. If the best they can do is a clod like Roth, just let it go unfilmed.