Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rebecca Makkai's "The Borrower"

Rebecca Makkai’s stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2008, 2009, and 2010, and have appeared in Tin House, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, and on NPR’s Selected Shorts.

Here she shares some ideas about writer-director, soundtrack, and cast for an adaptation of her new novel, The Borrower:
A small part of me hopes that if The Borrower is ever turned into a movie, Charlie Kaufman will write the script and turn it into a twisted meta-film wherein both he and I are characters getting kidnapped by my protagonist.

Failing that, I’d hope for a Little Miss Sunshine aesthetic. Quirky but not cutesy. I love movies where there’s so much clutter in the background that it feels absolutely real. Little Miss Sunshine was like that, as was the underrated The Family Stone. The early part of The Borrower is set in the children’s section of a public library, and I’d hate to see a sanitized version. There should be books and puppets and germy puzzles and posters everywhere. Lucy isn’t a particularly organized or responsible librarian, either, and I think it’s been a long time since she’s taken the Lysol to the board books.

On the other hand, I’d also love a surreal, glossy, Amélie-style glow over everything. Why not?

Zooey Deschanel must play Lucy. If she does not want to play Lucy, she must somehow be forced. I’m afraid this fake-movie-producer gig has me a little high on power. I’m starting to get why Hollywood is so strange. In the unlikely event that Zooey Deschanel will not bow to my every whim, I will grudgingly accept either Claire Danes or Chloe Sevigny.

I can’t tell you who should play Ian, the ten-year-old boy whose evangelical parents fear he is gay, because realistically any movie of my book wouldn’t get made until five or six years from now, so this kid would have to be currently four years old. But if we could somehow reverse-age Chris Colfer (Kurt on Glee), the timing would be just about perfect. I’m sure that can be arranged.

I realize movies have different rules than books, and any responsible screenplay writer would quickly smash some of my male characters together. Two of them, Tim and Glenn, are about the same age. Okay, so we name him Glim or Ten or something, and instead of a helpful gay neighbor and a sleazy straight musician love interest, he becomes the helpful love interest. I’m okay with that. Jason Segel is hereby cast as Glim.

Lucy’s father is in the Russian mafia, and this presents a problem. Do you go with someone intimidating, or someone Russian? I can’t think of any scary Russian actors. Is it better to have Robert De Niro fake an accent, or Mikhail Baryshnikov try to look sketchy? Baryshnikov did a surprisingly fabulous job in Sex and the City, so the job is his.

I think I’d care most about the soundtrack, though. When I feel manipulated by a movie, it’s usually because a whiny string section is insisting that I feel moved. I love movies with real songs, ones you might have heard before but aren’t sick of yet, ones that fit the scene because in real life yes, we do have music playing. What we don’t have are random violin bursts emphasizing our every move. Of course Wes Anderson does the best soundtracks in the world, so he’s welcome to sign on for just that part.

Oh, and an original Rufus Wainwright song as the credits roll. Is that too much to ask?
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website.

Writers Read: Rebecca Makkai (August 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue