"After I finish shaving you, I'll spoon-feed you some exposition."
I hesitate to criticize Stephen King film adaptations that turn out well, because so many of them don't, and Misery is a good one — I'd read the book, so I knew what to expect, but it had me in suspense in spite of that, and in spite of some of the grimmer material not making it to the screen. (Apparently screenwriter William Goldman felt he'd lose the room by Going There, and I don't entirely disagree. The sledgehammer is bad enough; what it's replacing is one of those things a movie probably can't come back from.)
But I do have a couple of quibbles. Kathy Bates took home the Oscar for this role, and she's very good in it (and, in an Academy year notorious for shanking GoodFellas among other egregious fuck-ups, the win is one of the few that holds up), but at times, the performance felt campy to me. I really like Bates, and she's probably not to blame for the scenes in which she's kind of choosing to stay on the surface of the writing. I've dealt with that breed of crazy, albeit on a smaller scale, obviously, and I can imagine it's difficult to do nuanced justice to in the context of a horror thriller; I think she did it as well as it could be done, given the script she had to work with, and you know, at the end of the day, the woman is bonkety-bonk-bonk bonkers. But once her bonkitude has become obvious not just to the audience but to Sheldon, the character needs to level out a little more, if that makes any sense — some of the "oh, Paul" simpering in the last act didn't work for me.
(The flip side of that is James Caan's performance, which is some of his best work. I've usually thought of him as likable but limited, and I'll have to revise that brief based on Misery, because one of King's gifts in his fiction is how he can get you inside his protagonist's head — he makes his characters relatable because, at moments of extreme terror, they don't behave "cinematically," but rather start singing snatches of songs or making terrible babbly jokes to themselves in their heads, just like you or I would probably do — and it's not easy to evoke that petrified stream-of-consciousness King does so well in an acting performance. Caan does wonderfully with it. He can thank the editing for a small assist in a few scenes, but at the same time that he's scared and angry, he's also seeing the black humor. It's good work, and subtle. My bad, Jimmy.)
My other quibble is the overclose. She's holding Sheldon hostage; she's referred to her husband leaving her, and after enough time has passed, I think most of the audience has inferred that she killed him. We don't need to see a scrapbook making it explicit, and we don't need to see a sheaf of clippings therein that make it clear she's also murdered dozens of infants, not least because…not to get all profiler on you here, but murderers tend to have a type, and the type of obsessive stalker who imprisons her favorite writer is not really the same type who commits angel-of-death hospital killings. If someone with a stronger psychology background than mine (read: "any, beyond long-ton consumption of true-crime books") would like to say otherwise, s/he may feel free, but that did strike me as…incorrect, and way too hard a sell given what we've already seen of her. She's locked him in his room. She's drugging him (or thinks she is). She's gutted the telephone; she's gone apeshit about the wrong-paper issue. That she is not the mayor of Sanity Acres, nor even a resident, is duly stipulated, so telling us she killed babies isn't necessary and cheapens the work already done.
And that's Goldman again, no doubt; he just can't take the chance that even one person won't get it, and that oversell makes a great movie into a very good one.
Tags: movies writing