I'LL LET YOU GO
by Bruce Wagner (Villard Books, $25.95)
WES ANDERSON may have pre-empted writer-director Bruce Wagner's intention to adapt I'll Let You Go for film. The Royal Tenenbaums likewise concerns a privileged, talented family sprung from New Yorker cartoons. Go also feels beholden to Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson, although those are just a few of the sources Wagner references in his tale of Los Angeles' ultrarich Trotter clan and its baroque dysfunction.
If Wagner does peddle Go in Hollywood, the pitch will go like this: It's The Magnificent Ambersons meets Great Expectations meets The Fisher King. Wagner specifically invokes Dickensian sentimentalism in the figure of crippled, disfigured Edward Trotter, a waif whom we know is not long for this world. Sister Lucille parallels Expectations' Estella, as cousin Toulouse does Pip.
Unlike their 19th-century prototypes, these precocious preteens consort with stars, conduct Google searches, and globe trot on private jets. In Wagner's scheme of high-meets-low, they inevitably encounter (a) a cute, orphaned, unwashed ragamuffin, Amaryllis, and (b) a hulking, kindly, unwashed eccentric, Will'm, a.k.a. Topsy, a.k.a. somebody else 500-plus pages will reveal.
Entertaining if overpopulated, Go is virtually a serial novel ࠬa Dickens. Appropriately, Wagner adapts a cloying "the author must digress" tone with frilly, self-conscious prose. His two main narrative strands amount to a murder mystery and a boy searching for his father, standard stuff rendered in a kind of retro period drag.
Why bother aping Dickens and indulging in the Victorian necrophilia of ruins, follies, topiary mazes, and private mausoleums? Perhaps Wagner means to compare millennial L.A. with the stratified, ossified 1800s, but the analogy is as musty as his language. His '96 I'm Losing You was more of the moment, obsessed with AIDS, disease, and decay; by contrast, Go's hothouse insularity balloons to an unwieldiness that finally, unsatisfyingly goes pop!, and the air rushes out.
Go is on firmer ground in the 21st century, dropping names, cataloging medications, and making a grotesquerie of Hollywood manners. "It is hoped that the cynical reader would have long since abandoned our tale," he writes (on page 462!), but discerning readers will hope that Wagner isn't abandoning his signature cynicism in favor of po-mo pathos.
BREAKING IN: HOW 20 FILM DIRECTORS GOT THEIR START
by Nicholas Jarecki (Broadway Books, $14)
NO MORE, please. No more whining would-be auteurs and their sob stories of how their cinematic genius is overlooked by Hollywood, Sundance, and Roger Ebert. There are too many bad movies and bad directors to merit any sympathy for such complaints, yet recent N.Y.U. film school grad Nicholas Jarecki has managed to solicit 20 such first-person accounts of how his subjects made it into show- biz—plus an introduction by, yes, Roger Ebert.
What are the insights gained? "Desperation is one thing that's hard to sell," opines Tamra Davis (CB4 and the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads). "Someone with 10 percent talent and 90 percent drive is gonna be as or more successful than somebody with 90 percent talent and 10 percent drive," offers Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), one of the crassest yet most reasonable voices in the book. Then there's Kris Isacsson, who recalls of Down to You, "Freddie [Prinze Jr.] got us the green light." Sadder words were never spoken.
Even though the majority of titles referenced in Breaking In are crap, they're illustrative crap; they teach you something about the business that veteran John Carpenter (Halloween) rightfully calls "ruthless." Indeed, it's the older survivors more than the callow youth who come through most vividly in Breaking. John Dahl (Red Rock West) and John McNaughton (Joy Ride) emerge as men with the most interesting life stories to tell.
By contrast, earnest young tyros like Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) seem too close to their material, too personally invested in their projects to enjoy likely sophomore success. In the case of Ben Younger and his vastly overrated Boiler Room, the guy lacks Ratner's commercial savvy but has all the same drive. Lie to get a job, he says; overstate your credentials, and maybe Ben Affleck will take pity on you.
That chutzpah leads him and other overeager young hacks directly into a trap articulated by Dahl "where studios will hire somebody to direct an $80 million picture who's only maybe directed a couple of commercials. . . . They just want him to make it look good." And there you have cinema today—interview No. 21 with Michael Bay.