Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dan Elish's "The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld"

Dan Elish is the author of the novel Nine Wives as well as several books for young adults and children including the award-winning Born Too Short, Confessions of an 8th Grade Basket Case, The Worldwide Dessert Contest, Jason and the Baseball Bear, and The Great Squirrel Uprising.

Here he explains which actors and directors he would like to see adapt his latest novel, The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld, for the big screen:
Who would I want to star in my novel, The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld, if it were turned into a movie? I’ll answer like this: it almost was. Well, not quite. But there was a long weekend in the fall of ’07 where it looked like the movie rights were going to be bought. What happened was my literary agent hooked me up with a movie agent, who fell in love with the book and sent it out en masse. Within hours, I was being forwarded these wildly enthusiastic emails from producers.

“I love this!” one said.

“Oh, my God!” gushed another. “Yes!”

One (whose name I won’t mention) was so excited it looked like the whole thing was a lock. All she needed was approval that Monday morning from the studio head. Apparently, that studio head didn’t exactly share her enthusiasm. Just like that, the emails stopped coming. Seventy-two hours after it began the ride was over.

But for those three days I spent a lot of time thinking about the movie version of the novel. The book tells the tale of a slightly hapless, slightly horny, highschool English teacher who gets stuck teaching at the New York City private school that he attended and detested as a boy. “Good-bye, Mr. Chips meets Portnoy's Complaint meets The 40-Year-Old Virgin in contemporary Manhattan” – that’s how Kirkus Reviews described it (much to my delight), and I was happy to note that all the reviews took note Justin’s general good heartedness.

So the movie? Well, sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. In this case, Judd Apatow to direct with Seth Rogen as the lead. In fact, though the book is funny (or professes to be) I’d even be happy to have Judd and crew adapt the whole thing. The scenes are all there (an opening where Justin thinks about the girl he loves while visiting a bio lab and inadvertently rubs himself against a Bunsen burner, igniting a fetal pig), but I think Apatow and crew would spice it up a bit, adding lots of witty guy-banter. Another director who might do the material justice, is Chris Weitz of American Pie fame, a movie I admired for its bawdiness and sweetness. In fact, Chris and I went to the same highschool (I won’t mention the name) – the same highschool that is the basis of much of the book. So Chris, if you’re out there and are looking for the perfect novel to adapt – this might be it.

For the third option, we’d need a time machine. To star, a young Tom Hanks. (All due respect to Seth Rogen, Tom Hanks can be funny and real and lots of other great things). To direct, I’d choose the Ron Howard who made Cocoon and Parenthood.

Finally, there is the question of the lead actress. Actually there are three women who pop in and out of Justin’s life, but in interest of keeping with the Apatow theme, Katherine Heigl would work. Or Anna Faris? Then again, I could just lobby for Cate Blanchett, because she can do anything and I’d love to meet her.

Most of all, I have made a vow. If the Hollywood feeding frenzy ever happens for me again, I will take as a given that it will all probably fall through. I will not get my hopes up or think about the massive amounts of money that will rain down on my head. I will remain calm.

Yeah, right.
Read an excerpt from The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld, and learn more about the author and his work at Dan Elish's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld.

--Marshal Zeringue