Even though I’m a doctor, I’ve never enjoyed watching movies about doctors. Maybe it’s because the subject matter can be so serious and grim, or because I feel like I’m back at work, frantically trying to come up with the mystery diagnosis before the characters do.
But I’m a sucker for movies about writers. Writing is a strange career. We’re often misunderstood by spouses and family. Many of us struggle to pay the bills. And the creative mind isn’t always the most stable mind, leading to mental crack-ups, imaginary friends, and fatal desperation. In short: terrific fodder for a story!
Here are my favorite writer films. Not all of them earned critical acclaim, but each one gave a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a writer.
I watched this seldom-seen film during an airline flight and laughed my way halfway across the Atlantic. It’s billed as a romantic comedy about a young woman who returns to her hometown village, but there’s also a subplot about an obnoxiously successful thriller writer who hosts writing workshops at his English country estate. It’s the subplot that steals the film, with snarky dinner conversations about literary vs. commercial fiction, disastrous booksignings, and a cautionary tale about how commercial success can create monsters.
THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN
Billy Crystal plays Larry, a bitterly divorced novelist and writing instructor who’s suffering from terminal writer’s block. When one of his writing students, Owen, (Danny DeVito) offers to murder Larry’s ex-wife if Larry will, in turn, murder Owen’s obnoxious mother, Larry thinks it’s a joke. Or is it? A mad-cap comedy about how rage can destroy creativity — and how friendships can restore it.
THE GHOST WRITER
While this film isn’t about a novelist, it paints a realistic picture of how celebrity “autobiographies” are actually produced. A talented young ghost-writer (whose name, significantly enough, is never given) has been hired to write the autobiography of a former Prime Minister. The ghost uncovers unsavory secrets that were never meant to be revealed — and which may threaten his life.
A screenwriter (Nicholas Cage) struggles to write a film adaptation of the book THE ORCHID THIEF, which turns out to be unadaptable — unless he takes outrageous liberties with the plot. The result is a zany look at how far writers will go to deliver the goods.
How could I not mention this creepy, crawly tale of a writer who slowly goes totally bonkers in a deserted hotel, as his family watches in horror?
And finally, my favorite:
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Young Shakespeare writes “Romeo and Juliet”, falls in love, and tries to stay one step ahead of the Queen’s guard. The scene that had me laughing hardest? When a ferryman finds out that Shakespeare’s a writer and asks him, “Will you read my manuscript?”