Ahh, chick lit. For some, it’s a dirty word, for others, a guilty pleasure. I most definitely fall into that latter category, and I’m betting that most do (at least in the privacy of their own homes), if only judging by the sheer numbers turned into chick flicks.
However, chick lit isn't easy to translate from page to the screen. In the right hands, books get amazing adaptations to make even the pickiest reader smile, and in the wrong ones… well, quirky girls become caricatures, with none of the self-discovery and soul that made for perfect bubble bath reading. Never fear: if you're in the mood for a little light watching, here are the best, brightest, and sassiest film adaptations, as well as one or two better left to the bargain bin!
In Her Shoes, based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner
This is one of my favorite examples of why a great adaptation doesn’t have to stick to the letter of the lit, as long as it understands the heart behind it. In Her Shoes follows two sisters in their search for happiness: Rose, who has always toed the line but who still hasn’t found fulfillment, and Maggie, for whom the line is just a suggestion, and family is little more than an ATM. Rose is, predictably, always rescuing Maggie, but after a particularly vicious fight, she kicks her sister out, and won’t see her again for months.
There are some fairly major differences between the film and the source material, including an entire missing sub-plot revolving around Maggie’s ingenuity and growing desire to be seen by men as more than just a perfect body. In most cases, losing such a large chunk of the story would be catastrophic, but here it still manages to work. The key events and moments still happen to Maggie, simply in a different place, with different people. These changes end up giving her grandmother a larger role to play, and reinforcing the central dynamics of the relationships in the book.
It’s a beautiful book, and a film made with a truly clear understanding of why the novel worked so well. In Her Shoes balances sweeping arcs with small details to recreate the novel in a slightly new way, without losing the magic of the original.
The Nanny Diaries, based on the novel by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
I am routinely surprised at seeing this wonderful adaptation left out when the discussion revolves around chick lit. Unlike In Her Shoes, The Nanny Diaries lifts the original story almost word for word from the book onto the screen, with only the smallest exclusions. Written by a pair of ex-nannies, the book chronicles the adventures of Nan (aka Nanny), employed by a rich and ridiculous New York family to care for their young son. There’s a little romance thrown into the mix for good measure, but there is a good balance between Nan’s life as a student, a Nanny, and a potential girlfriend for “Harvard”.
The film does make some small changes to the source material, but nothing that materially alters the story. In the original, Nan is still a student, pursuing a career in education and child psychology, and she is an experienced nanny. In the film, however, the job with the X family quite literally falls in her lap! While this removes a layer of believability, it actually serves to enhance how appalling Mrs X is when it comes to being involved in her son's care. The film changes Nan’s major to anthropology, and begins when she is post-degree – giving the film a clearer focus and an anthropological twist. However, beyond the set up, almost nothing further changes.
As a pure adaptation, this is almost perfect. The casting is inspired, the jokes land well, and it remains a story that is both sweet and tear-your-hair-out frustrating at the same time. The only criticism that I would level at The Nanny Diaries is the one substantial alteration the writers made: the end. The books itself ends with a dose of realism; confrontation followed by… nothing. No closure. No neatly tied up ends or feeling that everything will be ok. The film, on the other hand, bows to the pressure to create a Happily Ever After, giving the viewer a run down on each character and how they are doing post-meltdown (everyone is, of course, much happier and better as human beings). Still, there are worse things than adding a slightly cliché post script to a sweet and simple film.
What’s Your Number, based on the novel 20 Times A Lady Karyn Bosnak
There’s no doubting that What’s Your Number—and the book it was based on—is chick lit in its purest form. Our heroine, Ally, takes a magazine article a little too much to heart, and decides that in order to avoid having any new sexual partners in her search for love, will revisit the sexual adventures of her past in the hopes that she can make something work the second time around. Meanwhile, she's dealing with a sister planning a wedding, a hilariously nagging mother, and her conflicting feelings for her neighbor, a self-proclaimed slutty guy who helps her out as part of a slightly unrealistic deal.
(Editor's note: apparently Chris Evans was contractually obligated to star in AT LEAST TWO chick-lit adaptations. Which, fine; he's easy on the eyes.)
While there are many issues with the premise itself (because really, who cares how many people you've boffed?), it’s a good-natured romp through the bad decisions that many women make in the dating world, and the film does an excellent job of bringing the characters and plot “twists” to life. True, it’s predictable, but it’s also funny and unpretentious, with just enough semi-slapstick to put a smile on your face.
The Devil Wears Prada, based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger
This star--studded adaptation is something of a benchmark for the standard literary adaptation, to my mind. While it doesn’t materially alter the book to the extent that vastly important information is lost, it definitely makes some changes. The general idea behind the novel remains, but many of the smaller side-arcs and characters are utterly unrecognizable to a devoted reader. This actually works well – if you are looking for a favorite novel to come to life on screen, you’ll be disappointed, but if watching as a newcomer to the story, you’ll still love it – and for the same reasons readers did.
The Devil Wears Prada is the story of a fresh-faced university graduate who, unable to find work in serious journalism, takes a job as the junior assistant of a fashion magazine editor. Understanding that this job will open doors (and pay her rent), she suffers through a year under a nightmare boss in a world she doesn’t understand, mostly hoping just to make it through another day. However, as time goes by, she changes into a snobby fashion person. It's a classic losing-yourself-to-find-yourself story.
The best part of this film, by far, is the casting. Meryl Streep as Miranda is so perfect that I am unable to imagine her otherwise, even when reading the vastly different description on the page! Anne Hathaway, as usual, manages to pull of fashionista and frump within the same two hours, and where would a transformation movie be without Stanley Tucci?
Eat, Pray, Love, based on the memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Pray, Love should have been an instant blockbuster—the book certainly was. The travel journal/spiritual journey took the world by storm (despite some very negative reviews!), and received Oprah’s stamp of approval. When then film was announced, the casting was ideal – who but Julia Roberts to play the damaged divorcée in her 30s, deciding to take a pilgrimage to find balance? Sadly, not even perfect casting could save this film for fans of the book. However, as a pleasant (and visually stunning) wander through the streets of Italy, India and Indonesia, it’s a perfectly lovely film. It definitely has its better moments – starting and finishing strong, but sadly, losing its way in the middle.
The one major issue with the film is that while it kept many of the characters and stories (allowing for adaptation to fit a two hour movie), it completely missed the point. Eat Pray Love is, at its core, a spiritual memoir. While it is launched by Liz’s relationships and concludes with romance, it’s not a love story—unless, of course, you count Liz learning to love herself. The most powerful moments within it are those moments where she really connects with a higher power; in New York, when she first discovers her inner voice, when her petition to the universe coincides perfectly with her divorce going through, when she discovers her Guru, when she touches the void in meditation, when she sends the Geet to her nephew to help him sleep, when she forgives her ex-husband…
This was powerful stuff, and it resonated with readers. It did not, however, resonate with Hollywood. The film essentially removes her entire conversation with “God”, reducing her experience chanting in NYC to her in giggles with her boyfriend. It wipes almost every truly spiritual moment and replaces it with love stories – even her transcendent moment in meditation is completely lost, and in it’s stead, we have an Indian wedding. Lots of pretty colors on screen, and no substance. Which could also sum up the film.
Bridget Jones's Diary, based on the novel by Helen Fielding
Much like Eat, Pray, Love, the biggest issue with this adaptation of Helen Fielding’s hugely popular novel is that the movie misses the point. In fact, it misses two of them.
First and foremost, Bridget Jones Diary is a modern re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, and not a very subtle one at that. (Not that that is a bad thing, but someone should really have mentioned it to the screenwriters.) In the original tale of singeldom as a 30-ish Londoner, not only does Bridget have two suitors to play the parts of Wickham (Daniel) and Darcy (Darcy – I did say it wasn’t subtle!), but she has a family member run away with an unsuitable man, disgracing herself and necessitating Darcy to come to the family’s rescue and redeem himself in everyone’s eyes. It is a wonderful modern retelling of a classic, with a relatable heroine and all the most important details in the right place. The film, however, wipes out every element of Austen’s masterpiece short of the name Darcy and the idea that one man is a cad, while the other only appears to be a cad. Rather than a dramatic fight scene between Darcy and a Portugese con artist (which would have been phenomenal), we have Bridget running out into the street in her underpants.
The second point that is sorely missed is the relatability of Bridget’s character. She is neurotic and quirky, but to a reasonable extent, and to one that is balanced out by wonderful friends, good intentions, and the fact that she’s not actually a complete mess. In the film, however, she careers between being so incompetent and ditzy that it borders on slapstick (or certifiable), yet a moment later, she is delivering the kind of witty come-back that the original Bridget would have thought of five hours later and left in a drunken answering machine message.
There are many things that are forgivable in chick lit, because they are still funny, or cute. Bridget Jones Diary was not one of them, and the fact that a sequel was made is a testament to the brilliance of the source material.
Confessions of a Shopaholic, based on the novel by Sophie Kinsella
Last, and very much least, we have the 2009 adaptation of the first of Sophie Kinsella’s brilliantly charming Shopaholic series: Confessions of a Shopaholic. Much like Bridget Jones Diary, this is a film where the writers simply missed the point.
The Shopaholic series follows Rebecca Bloomwood, a generally functional adult with a huge heart… and a big shopping problem. She just can’t seem to stop shopping, and in an adorably childish way, writes letters to credit card companies and bank managers essentially claiming “the dog ate my check which is in the mail”. She’s looking for love, and also looking for a way to get her spending under control – which she honestly tries to do. She’s cute rather than annoying because her heart is in the right place, and it adds up to a sweet series that is now seven books in.
The film, however, turns Ms Bloomwood into a ditzy, selfish and manipulative woman, splurging (not on lots of little things that add up without her really noticing) on designer items and overpriced tat. Her friend, rather than being the enabler she is in the books, is a strict and schoolmarmish woman who frogmarches Rebecca off to Shopaholics Anonymous, while Rebecca displays her talents as a bad employee, bad friend and bad daughter. Is it any wonder that the movie was a flop? Rather than feeling sympathetic, rooting for her to figure it out, we are left wanting to give her a bit of a smack and tell her to stop being so stupid. Then sigh, heavily.
What are your favorite (and least-favorite) chick-lit adaptations? Which would you like to see made? Comment and let me know!