Friday, August 24, 2007

Which Comes First? The Movie or the Book?

I just got home from seeing the movie The Nanny Diaries, which premiered today.

A year or so ago, when I was writing my chick lit novel, I read the book The Nanny Diaries as research into the genre. I've read articles which definitively state that this book or that one started the whole chick lit craze. Among the candidates are Bridget Jones's Diary, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, and The Nanny Diaries (TND). I've read a fair amount in the genre over the last year or two and in my humble opinion, TND was the best. So I wanted to see the movie, but I went in with some trepidation.

I generally don't like reading a book and then seeing a movie. I love doing it the other way around. If I see a movie I like, I'm thrilled if there's a book version I can read afterward. I already have pictures of the characters and places in my head from the movie and am free to picture them that way when I read. More importantly, a book always seems to give more detail. It's like when you go into the ice cream shop and they give you a taste of their homemade Rocky Road in a tiny little condiment cup. You salivate and want more, of course, so you get yourself a whole scoop, and dig in. (Or maybe two, but who's counting?) Digging into the book version of a great movie is like that to me, richer and fuller and more satisfying.

On the other hand, if you read the book first and then go to the movie, everything is all wrong. People look different. The best scenes are cut out. I usually feel like I'm getting a synopsis, not the whole story.

The Nanny Diaries is basically about a college girl who takes a job as nanny to the son of a Manhattan couple, identified only as "Mr. and Mrs. X." It was an amazing book to me for several reasons. It had the chick lit voice but complex characters. In the story, the employers give Nanny a horrible time, yet she becomes wrapped up in their personal struggles and starts trying to protect them. Mrs. X is both infuriating and pathetic, and I only hope I never cross paths with someone that manipulative. Grayer, the child, starts out as the spoiled brat you'd expect in a book like this, but turns out to be a believable child with deep emotions. The narrative is funny, yet gut-wrenching.

By the end of the book, I was so invested in the characters that I worked myself up into quite a tizzy at how it turned out for some of them. My sister went to the movie with me tonight and laughed because she remembered when I finished reading the book last year, and spent an entire lunchtime practically pounding the table and venting about how self-centered and clueless these people were.

Back to the movie. I enjoyed it, and as usual, if I hadn't read the book, I probably would have enjoyed it quite a bit. The film adaptation didn't change things around as much as usual, except for making things turn out better in the end. Still, I had that feeling of being rushed, of so much depth and subtlety being left out. It felt rather flat.

I know some people who make a point of rushing to read a book BEFORE they go see the movie version. With my experience, I can't quite see why they'd want to do this. How about you? What should come first, reading the book or seeing the movie? Or maybe you're a purist, and don't want to see the movie versions at all?