Geeks, Balloons, and Beautiful Objects: Five Books for the Big Screen

staff | May 13, 2011

Last August, Deadline broke the news that Scott Rudin had bought the rights to Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Almost a decade earlier, he bought the rights to The Corrections, which has yet to be filmed. (In both cases, the deal was sealed before the books’ official publication dates.) A month later, Lane Brown did some investigating for New York‘s Vulture and compiled a list of titles on Rudin’s “bookshelf.” It’s a pretty impressive roster, but here are five books the mogul’s missing:

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
In an effort to save their failing carnival, an enterprising couple of circus freaks ingests radioactive drug cocktails and breeds a menagerie of grotesqueries — amphibious hybrids, an albino dwarf, Siamese twins. There was a play in 2004, but some carefully deployed CGI might really up the ante here. In a pair of opposing perfect worlds, either Werner Herzog or John Waters would spearhead this. But even the worst-case scenario isn’t so bad: a more mainstream Francis Lawrence looking for a Water for Elephants corrective. It would be best if the leads were unknown but surrounded by a cast of peripheral Creepy-Eyed Actors (Christopher Walken, Shelley Duvall, Justin Bartha, Rory Culkin, Keegan Allen).

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
That this hasn’t yet been optioned is just bizarre, considering both the creator and the content. It’s easy to imagine a pitch meeting just humming with buzzwords. “The Devil Wears Prada”! Price fixing! Felony! The narrator is a classic cipher, mostly voiceover, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt could make a nice, fawning nonentity. You’d want a female lead with just enough — but not too much — spunk; Lacey Yaeger is striving but also a little smarmy. She’s smart and subtle. Someone with darting eyes… Kristen Bell, perhaps?

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
The nastily-named Undine Spragg — a perennially unsatisfied siren of “almost crude” beauty — is totally compelling despite her ceaseless pining, secret cheating, heartless spawning, and hasty divorcing. The very definition of “piss poor morally,” Undine’s shallow, wicked impulses make her a subject fit more for Cary Fukungana than Merchant Ivory. Scarlett Johansson could do the overripe role justice. Undine’s male conquests serve mostly to provoke her ire and greed, but the important one to nail down is Elmer Moffat, the repellant man from her past; let’s get Evan Handler in here.

The Conclave by Michael Bracewell
Martin and Marilyn aspire obsessively towards the best that a gilded 1980s London has to offer — filagreed china, bespoke suits, olives. But the urban aesthetes lead a predictably empty life, whose ups and downs correlate exactly to those of the stock market. There are healthy doses of conspicuous consumption, indulgent melancholy, and unbridled narcissism. It’s an allegory that could go real dark, real fast on screen. Do not allow Sofia Coppola to get her hands on this one; hire Todd Haynes instead. Ideally, this would be poorly acted.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois
Big View Pictures already owns the film rights, but the project seems to have been in the only-early stages of development for quite a while now. William Waterman Sherman, a retired school teacher sets off to circumnavigate the globe in a giant hot air balloon but wrecks on Krakatoa. He discovers that the island is populated by twenty international families who are excavating a secret diamond mine. The society is whimsically utopian: Their calendar is based on a Byzantine dining schedule and the houses are furnished with all manner of fantastic amusement. When the island’s famous volcano inevitably erupts, everyone escapes by balloon… naturally. Where is Wes Anderson on this?  Fingers crossed for Jim Belushi as Professor Sherman.