The Reader was not a good movie. It seems like the director – Stephen Daldry, director of other boring movies like The Hours – saw an interesting subject and then expanded on it, stretched it out, expanded and expanded until it made the perfect, tied up little narrative that was sure to wow those Oscar people. There seems to be so many things wrong with it that would just be easy to fix, but were left in for audiences in their 50s that like watching epic romances. Amid accidental pedophilia suggestions, a Ralph Fiennes (eww. and not a good actor.) flashback, and plenty of man-boy nudity, The Reader is just a really really boring movie. (For a better synopsis, go here.)
It’s bad, but I think it’s worse to me because of the book I’m reading right now. The Reader deals with issues of re-reading a bit, and Anne Fadiman’s collection of essays Rereadings does it so much better. In the essays, authors choose a book that was important to them in their youth and reread it with their new, more critical skills to see how it stands up/makes them feel/etc. In The Reader, Ralph Fiennes rereads books that he read to the illiterate Kate Winslet into a tape recorder for her to re-listen to. Despite the passage of about 40 years, both characters find this rereading experience to be extremely moving. That was actually a concept in the movie that I kind of liked (until Oscar-bound Kate learns to read and it becomes something attempting sentimentality). But the book does it so much better.
I’m not one for comparing books and their adaptations. The forms are completely different and the comparisons are unfair. Dudley Andrews said it was like comparing Mozart’s symphonies to so-and-so’s paintings. It doesn’t make much sense. But this isn’t an adaptation issue. This is an issue of how much more honest and straightforward this collection of essays – that deals with many of the same themes – comes across in comparison to this surface level film. It might not be an issue, were I not reading the Anne Fadiman book right now.
And this has been an issue recently. Two days ago I finished Madam Bovary and then went over to my friend Drew’s to watch The Bridges of Madison County (I mention my friend Drew so you know I had absolutely nothing to do with this film choice). Now that’s another horrible, awful, boring movie that needs no help from my supplementary material to aid in it’s badness. But the fact that I had just read this really wonderfully written tale of adultery and then was forced (okay…not forced…but we had that good Australian licorice, and Doritos…so who’s going to leave?) to sit through the romanticization of this really ridiculous love affair between Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep just made it that much worse.
I like reading books when they coincide with my life. Reading Down and Out in Paris and London when I’m actually in London. Or reading Emil Zola when I’m in Paris. It’s exciting. But reading good books when I’m watching awful movies is just disappointing and a little unbearable.
So don’t see The Reader. It really is awful.