Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Novel Life of FORREST GUMP

The anniversary of the release of Paramount's colossal box office hit, FORREST GUMP, comes up this month. I've written about this before yet I feel it's worth repeating. If you want some good summertime reading, hit your local library or bookstore for a copy of FORREST GUMP, the 1986 novel by Winston Groom. I read it in about three days. I read it because of a co-worker. I was on a shoot for the weekend WNBC weekend news show. The cameraman, the audio guy and I were in the van. The audio guy would break out into an infectious laugh. We asked him what was so funny. He said, "This book I bought." It was FORREST GUMP. He was at a garage sale in his neighborhood, saw the paperback on sale for 25 cents and bought it for something to read during lunch breaks at work. He said that it would make a good movie. I told I read that it was being made into a movie with Tom Hanks. He replied, "Hmmm." When I got home, I went to the nearby library, found a copy and checked it out. I broke out into laughter reading it just like the audio guy had done.
I'm positive there have been times when you've mentioned a movie that you liked and some Poindexter chimed in with "The book was so much different." Movies based on books have usually been different from the source material ever since films learned how to talk. I feel "The book was so much different" is not a true comment on the movie you mentioned, it's a way for someone to brag about having read a book that you probably didn't. The next time you talk about a movie you liked and someone says "The book was so much different," try responding with "But isn't that usually the case?" and see what the reaction is. GONE WITH THE WIND is one of the most famous Old Hollywood classics ever made. It was a top Oscar winner and, into the 1970s, the 1939 classic was still being re-released and still making big money. Millions of people loved the novel. Millions of people loved the film. The Margaret Mitchell novel opens with "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."

Who won the Best Actress Oscar for her powerful performance as Scarlett O'Hara? Beautiful Vivien Leigh.
I can readily think of three films that we quite faithful to the books/stories that were their source material: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

Within the three days I spent reading FORREST GUMP, I realized why the audio guy responded with "Hmmm" when I told him Tom Hanks was playing the lead. I love Tom Hanks and I was curious to see how he was going to pull off playing Forrest. I'll tell you like this -- if it was being made today, one of the frontrunners for the lead role surely would be...John Cena.
John Cena fits the novel's description of how Forrest Gump looks.  Gump is an attractive muscle-bound young blond hunk with a crewcut. He's got a clinging old bat of a mother and a sexually active girlfriend. He doesn't see them the way we readers do because he's different. He's athletically gifted and fairly well-endowed. But his I.Q. is low. In the Winston Groom novel, Forrest Gump is an idiot savant. Being an idiot savant gets Forrest into a series of adventures and misadventures. Forrest has sexual encounters and even winds up making a low-budget sci-fi thriller with a formidable starlet named Raquel Welch.  Forrest will often get intro predicaments because he's not too bright. As he says in the book, "Bein' an idiot is no box o' chocolates."

Eric Roth won an Oscar for his adapted screenplay. Basically, Roth took the vinegar out of the Winston Groom story and replaced it with lemonade.  To see how a movie could keep the characters and some of the adventures of a book but completely change the tone of the story, read FORREST GUMP if you've seen the movie. Because the hit 1994 film became somewhat of pop culture phenomenon, the book was a best-seller again in paperback. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture and Tom Hanks took home his second Oscar for Best Actor.

Eric Roth's recent hit screenplay was for the Lady Gaga remake of A STAR IS BORN. In that screenplay, he included numerous bows to the first remake screenplay of that classic, the 1954 Moss Hart screenplay for the version starring Judy Garland and James Mason, directed by George Cukor.

I've long wondered how novelist Winston Groom feels when he hears us really misquote Forrest Gump when we say "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

Consider the funny, naughty, entertaining novel by Winston Groom for your summertime reading.  The movie was so much different.

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