Just as the now late Kurt Vonnegut’s works resisted cinematic interpretation, the novels of Philip Roth, and those of their contemporaries who thrived in the post-World War II era, have never been adequately transferred from prose to screen. This is probably because their writing tended to get lost in ideas rather than plotting; while one gets a charge out of reading Cat’s Cradle or Portnoy’s Complaint, who finishes those books and says, "Now there’s a movie?"… aside from Richard Kelly, who must’ve sold what was left of his soul to crack the former?
Roth’s been gnawing away at the American sickness for a couple of decades now, but his sharpest examination of the nation’s identity crisis, The Human Stain, was badly mishandled by the usually perceptive director Robert Benton back in 2003. That film, starring the horrendously miscast Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman (both of whom were concessions to the year-end awards rigmarole), made a mess of the crushingly obvious Clinton-Lewinsky parallel, which wasn’t all that unbearable on the page thanks to the elegance of Roth’s language. And that’s the problem: Roth is a master of metaphor, while most screenwriters are slaves to narrative. So perhaps it’s not all that surprising that a clever scribe like Nicholas Meyer completely missed the mark.
Though I’d rather have Meyer fixing whatever it is Paramount is doing to the Star Trek franchise, I’m a big enough fan of his writing to give him another chance at adapting Roth. This time, he’s targeted the much shorter – and, hopefully, much more manageable – Dying Animal, which is, once again, about a really old professor banging an unreasonably hot twentysomething broad. The chick in The Human Stain was meant to be alluring white trash (i.e. Maggie Gyllenhaal), but Miramax insisted on the more Oscar-friendly Kidman. This time, Lakeshore Entertainment is unencumbered by the Weinsteins’ suggestions, freeing them up to cast… Penelope Cruz! Hey, she’s supposed to be hot, a little older and Spanish! And Salma Hayek is pregnant!
Ben Kingsley will be playing the fuck-happy academician, while the supporting cast will be rounded out by Peter Sarsgaard, Patricia Clarkson, Dennis Hopper and Deborah Harry. Isabel Coixet, who has yet to direct a decent movie, will be calling action.