Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mary Kay Zuravleff's "Man Alive!"

Mary Kay Zuravleff is the author of The Bowl Is Already Broken, which the New York Times praised as “a tart, affectionate satire of the museum world’s bickering and scheming,” and The Frequency of Souls, which the Chicago Tribune deemed “a beguiling and wildly inventive first novel.” Honors for her work include the American Academy’s Rosenthal Award and the James Jones First Novel Award, and she has been nominated for the Orange Prize.

Here Zuravleff dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Man Alive!:
In atmospherics alone, Man Alive! is a natural for the big screen. As a fast-moving storm closes in on the beach, the novel opens with Dr. Owen Lerner being struck by lightning as he puts a quarter in the parking meter on his family's last night of vacation. The child psychiatrist is literally thrown into the air; however, aside from his searing pain, Dr. Lerner is enamored of his experience. In fact, all he wants to do now is barbecue, in hopes of capturing the heavenly smell that he associates with the moment he was struck.

Owen's wife, Toni, and their three children are desperate for him to be himself once again, but he's not convinced he should be medicating kids the way he used to. And as it happens, now he exhibits many of the problems he's known for treating, because people recovering from lightning have problems with ADD, ADHD, PTSD, and traits associated with autism. How far can he drift from his past life before everything falls apart?

Because the novel reveals the fragile eco-system of family life, I pick Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton as the movie's directors. Who better than a married couple to dramatize Toni and Owen's struggle? This team's brilliant Little Miss Sunshine wrings the same painful humor from family life that I'm trying to capture.

Robert Downey Jr., if he is willing to gain a few pounds, is my choice for Owen, a wry and wise shrink to kids and teens. (There would be added value in his possibly knowing about the many drugs Dr. Lerner dispenses.) Also, I recently heard Downey sing! Owen is a soundtrack fan, so there may have to be singing.

Either Mary-Louise Parker or Parker Posey should play Toni Lerner, an attractive renegade who is devoted to family over lifestyle or status. Her straight-talking approach, while never sarcastic, can sometimes seem flip--Toni is to the other mothers as these actresses are to slick Hollywood types. Smoky-voiced Chloë Grace Moretz, Jack Donaghy's nemesis on 30 Rock, is how I see Brooke, the Lerners's smart teenage daughter who, feeling completely ignored in the wake of her father's accident, enters a dangerous relationship with a fellow-gymnast named Natalio (take a look at Diego González-Boneta). Brooke's older brothers, identical twins at two different colleges, get into their own heartbreaking trouble. Based solely on his appearance (which I suppose I'm allowed to do), Jeremy Sumpter is the tall, surfer-dude math nerds Will and Ricky, whose birth order is flipped when the younger twin is the one who revives their dad. Ricky's mythology professor is up for grabs, as is Will's voluptuous girlfriend, Kyra, who may or may not have had sex with Owen.

With music by T-Bone Burnett & company. I'd not only see the movie but also buy the soundtrack.
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Kay Zuravleff's website.

--Marshal Zeringue