Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Joanne Serling's "Good Neighbors"

Joanne Serling worked in women’s magazines, high tech public relations and later, as a director of public affairs for American Express before leaving the corporate world for life as a writer. While raising two young children, she attended The Writers Studio in New York City and published two short stories while part of the Master Class there.

Here Serling dreamcasts an adaptation of Good Neighbors, her debut novel:
Good Neighbors explores the world of four suburban families who consider themselves “like family,” yet know very little about one another. When one of the couples, Paige and Gene Edwards, adopts a four-year-old girl from Russia, the group’s morality and loyalty are soon called into question. Are the Edwards unkind to their new daughter? Or is she a difficult child with hidden destructive tendencies?

The story is told in the first person by neighbor Nicole Westerhof, an insightful observer who is nonetheless insecure and highly anxious. She continually waffles about whether the Edwards deserve her friendship, or her suspicion. I have always considered Amanda Peet the perfect actor to play Nicole; she has incredible emotional range and can appear both likeable and emotionally unsteady, two essential qualities for this role. I’d love to see Peter Sarsgaard play Nicole’s husband, Jay Westerhof, a slightly aloof and reserved man who is nonetheless decent and loving underneath.

To make this movie a success, you’d need the perfect Paige and I’m certain after seeing I, Tonya, that Margot Robbie could nail this part, portraying Paige as cold, slightly unstable and highly manipulative. Leonardo DiCaprio is the ideal Gene Edwards, a man Nicole describes as too good looking to take seriously as someone’s middle aged husband and father--and whose weakness ultimately sinks the family.

Two other couples complete this neighborhood tableau. Lorraine Weinberger, a good-natured gossip who stops by Nicole’s house nearly every day after work to trade stories about Paige’s strange behavior. Drew Barrymore could pull off this part with aplomb: she’s adorable, and ready for a more serious role as an adult struggling with her own superficiality. Lorraine’s boyfriend, Jeffrey, is easy going, passive, and occasionally sticks his foot in his mouth. Better Call Saul actor Bob Odenkirk would make a memorable Jeffrey. The fourth couple of this neighborhood group is Nela and Drew Guzman-Veniero. Nela has serious misgivings about being associated with Nicole, Lorraine and Paige, insisting that where she come from, in Puerto Rico, “you don’t get involved with your neighbors.” Tiffany Haddish, though neither Puerto Rican, nor as serious as Nela, would make this role her own, spicing up Nela’s brand of feisty resistance. Her husband Drew who is more easygoing but not exactly conventional could be played by Joaquin Phoenix.

Of course, no movie is complete without a sensitive and astute director: my dream director is Tamara Jenkins of Slums of Beverly Hills and Savages fame. She goes where few other directors dare to go, into the marrow of human relationships.
Visit Joanne Serling's website.

Writers Read: Joanne Serling.

--Marshal Zeringue