In March of 2019, I wrote an Out of My Comfort Zone post about book-to-movie adaptations. I finally felt like I was in the right place to watch something again.
Prepare for a whole post of low-level culture shock and me being confused!
I wanted to try a movie that was not a book-to-movie adaptation, and I wanted something that was a) sapphic and b) available to buy in my country on google play, the only place where I could easily buy things online without having to ask my parents.
Unsurprisingly, that’s a really small pool, and that’s how I ended up watching Booksmart (2019, directed by Olivia Wilde), in Italy “la rivincita delle sfigate” (wow do I hate this title).
I wish I were able to start by telling you something as simple as whether I liked Booksmart or not, but as usual, screen-induced anxiety made this a weird experience and I don’t know what to say. Or, I should probably tell you that you shouldn’t take what I say too seriously, as I started to get into this only around the 75% mark, and the 102 minutes of it actually took me a whole afternoon, since I kept pausing things.
We started off on the wrong note because this was only available in Italian, and not in English (with or without subtitles), and the dubbing was… messy. At first I struggled to understand which of the two girls was speaking. Also, the humor in this book relies a lot on certain types of joke that don’t translate well, and that doesn’t help.
And since we’re talking about cultural barriers: I always forget just how alien American culture – and, especially, American high school – is to me until I actually see them. I realize I keep imagining things wrong when I read contemporary books, because even the settings (the cities are so flat and yet going anywhere has to involve a car?), the objects in here (…people actually seriously unironically wear togas? I forgot that. And cars that old are allowed? Like no one will stop you?) – everything is so weird to me. And this is important, because this is a story about challenging high school stereotypes, and it doesn’t work as much when those stereotypes aren’t really your own? But once I got into it, it was a fun time, if one I always felt like I couldn’t fully get.
I also agree with this tweet by author Rory Power:
I’m not going to pretend I know anything about movies and say whether or not this was in any way good on a technical level, but it was really nice to see a lesbian on a screen, and that’s what I wanted, so I’m not unhappy. I also got emotional because of the character development, so that was nice, but the nicest feeling is the one I got by constantly reminding myself of how good it is to not be 17 or in high school anymore.
Now I’m left with a question – why does US media like to pretend high school is something worth missing? The characters seem to hate it, and yet the ending is all about how they’ll miss this time of their life. I’m two years out of high school and I haven’t missed it for a moment, and it’s not like people in my country seem to expect people to. Cultural differences again? Or is there something I just don’t get?
Then I finally figured out I could a 25€ giftcard at my local bookstore and start a Netflix account on my own without needing anyone’s help, which definitely widened the pool of material available to me.
To start out safe, I went back to a book-to-movie adaptation of a collection I read before I started blogging even in my first language, Let It Snow.
I liked this so much more than Booksmart, surprisingly. Not because of… better quality of the original material, I don’t think so, but this time the dubbing wasn’t a tragedy and the movie wasn’t quite as heavy on my screen anxiety. Maybe it was the recent exposure (two movies only a few days apart from each other… wow Acqua) and maybe it’s really this specific story, but I managed to enjoy some parts of this, which is a lot for American movies about teenagers.
I don’t remember the book that clearly, but I have to say that as an adaptation this is both:
- high quality, or at least, better than I remember the book being
- not faithful at all – it’s almost more “inspired by the collection Let It Snow by Mauren Johnson, John Green & Lauren Myracle” than an actual adaptation, which is probably a positive thing
(In case it wasn’t already clear, I didn’t love that book.)
The main thing I loved about this adaptation/reimagining was how they took away a lot of space from Lauren Myracle’s short story, which I remember most people hated and that I didn’t love either, to give space to a sapphic romance. I don’t remember if there was any F/F content in the book, but it definitely wasn’t a major storyline as it was here – so much more space is given to Dorrie and Kerry’s romance than it is to Addie’s “woe is me I’m so self-centered that everyone hates me… maybe I shouldn’t be like that” storyline.
The sapphic romance still isn’t as developed as the two straight romances and it is written with straight lenses (it has the dreaded “person who is out pressures other person to come out” trope portrayed with no nuance whatsoever – the movie acts as if Kerry is wronging Dorrie by not being out) but I honestly don’t have it in me to nitpick the very little sapphic media that is legally available to watch in Italy. Also, this story might be a tired cliché and not a very good one, but it still had a lot of heart in it? Probably because the actors playing these two characters are both queer; that matters.
What I would have changed was the amout of space given to the characters of John Green’s short story, Tobin and Angie “the Duke”: their friends-to-lovers story is boring and has no flavor at all apart from the overwhelming heterosexuality and how much the main character is a typical John Green Novel Main Guy. (If you’ve read one of his novels, you know the type.) Their story had like… two funny moments and the creepiest romantic declaration I’ve seen in a long while (“when I see you with someone else I want to kill them”? What the…? What? Why didn’t Angie run? I hope that was a joke and that I didn’t get it.), which ruined what little good it had.
Though I have to admit their story had one of the funniest parts in the movie, the completely out-of-nowhere blasting of Rock the Casbah during the car chase. (…I couldn’t stop laughing at that.)
The main storyline, though, is pretty much unambiguously the normal girl/celebrity one, following Julie and Stuart. It was adorable, if really different from Maureen Johnson’s short story (the only story I remember liking). I’m glad that the main roles were given to two actors of color. I just wish the whole miniature decorative houses played a bigger part in the movie, as they do in the novel, because they’re cute.
Another thing the movie did right was that it got the atmosphere down perfectly. If there’s one thing these teen movies are good at and have in common, it’s being really pretty.
Also, tinfoil lady was the best character.
And this time, I’m again left with a question: is going in Africa for a semester after high school so… not uncommon for American students? It was mentioned both in here and in Booksmart. That’s “I’ve never heard of anyone in real life doing that” level of unusual for Italians.
Have you seen these? What did you think? What should someone with a Netflix account and time they should definitely be using to study watch?