The geeks will inherit the earth

Do you prefer the book or the film?

Well, der. The book, of course. Clichéd but true: the pictures are better in the book. With a book-adaptation, there is always an element of compromise. Some subtleties have to be smoothed out. The plot has to be simplified. Complexities and ambiguities swept away by a jaunty 80s soundtrack.

This compromise is particularly hard to take when it’s a book we cherish or a character we identify strongly with. A bit of clunky miscasting can ruin our enjoyment of not only the film but the book too. My own particular Room 101 has a video loop of David bleeding Jason smothering the perfect memory of Pop Larkin in cloying ITV Sunday-night candyfloss. For ever.

Sometimes, very occasionally, it works. For a whole generation of women, Colin Firth IS Mr Darcy, more or less. And thank God the BBC managed to rectify Austen’s appalling omission from the original novel of a description of Mr Darcy in a wet shirt. That page is probably still stuck down the side of the sofa in the Austen Hampshire vicarage.

So when I heard that ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls was being transferred to film, well, I squirmed a little in anticipation. I’d read it, of course. I’d have to check but I *think* it might be illegal *not* to have read it by now. And for someone of my age, it was all so familiar that it was difficult to say whether I liked it or not. It was like trying to decide if I liked being 23. Christ, hard to say but I wouldn’t say no to giving it another shot, at least for about 300 or so pages.

Nostalgia can be a powerful thing and this book had nostalgia doing a little Bez-dance on every page. It brought back a lot of memories, mostly happy ones, if sometimes a little sweet and fuzzy, like a tumbler of Archers and orange juice. It felt real, especially the two main characters. By the end, they even felt almost like friends.

Especially Emma Morley. Especially her.

In case you haven’t read the book or seen the film, Em is a slightly chippy, slightly awkward, rather geeky, very lefty working-class Northern girl with a penchant for heavy poetry and heavier sarcasm; she works as an English teacher for a good proportion of the book and later becomes a writer. Yes, it’s possible we have more than a little in common, Emma Morley and I.

But if there was to be a film made of my life, I am pretty damn certain that the first name to spring to mind wouldn’t be Anne pogging Hathaway.

Anne Hathaway! Seriously. Leaving aside for the moment the laughable quality of her accent… Actually no, let’s give that a little consideration after all, because God knows it deserves it. I know she’s not exactly Meryl Streep but really, that accent was distressingly bad. Come on Anne! Gwyneth managed it. Renee was note perfect. And if someone’s paid somewhere close to the Greek National Debt to pretend to be English she could at least have made a bit of an effort. As far as I could tell, Ms Hathaway’s homework for producing the voice of Our Em was a couple of episodes of Acorn Antiques and a little Groundsman Willie thrown into the mix.

But that’s not the real gripe. Em and Dexter spend twenty years *not* getting together because, well, Em isn’t exactly Anne bloody Hathaway. She isn’t hot and sexy and glam with eyes like Bambi. She’s normal and a bit shy and geeky and awkward. That’s why Dexter isn’t all that interested in her. Because he’s so shallow and she’s not fit enough. But eventually he grows up and sees her real qualities and then he falls in love with her. Aah.

Now this is a pretty powerful bit of wish fulfilment, particularly for the kind of women who like to read novels. Hang on in there, geeky clever girls! It doesn’t matter that you aren’t beautiful, or blonde, or skinny. It doesn’t matter that your legs don’t go up to THERE. No, not there. Higher! Because one day, one fine day, a REAL man will understand your true qualities. Your ho-hum looks, your chunky thighs, your entirely forgettable face won’t matter because he will be more interested in your intelligence and your conversation. One day, or even One Day, a handsome brooding attractive man, one who is a great deal more physically attractive than you (and probably a great deal richer) will be dazzled by your wits and not by your… well you get the picture.

This is the plot of some pretty key texts for the studious female – Pride and Prejudice for start, and Jane Eyre of course. And it’s the plot of One Day. Em is a bit dorky, a bit shy and a bit awkward. But in the end she bats way, way, WAY out of her league and bags the alpha male, the utterly luscious Dexter.

The trouble is, those who market films aren’t really getting this whole geeky girl thing. They are, ironically enough, a bit like Dexter. They like hotties. They like sexy chicks. They like the Bambi eyes. They like it when legs go up to THERE. And they think the viewing public thinks the same. That audiences wouldn’t go for a female lead unless she was, well, like Anne Hathaway. Geeks don’t sell. At least geeky girls don’t.

Which is a shame really. Yeah I know it’s only entertainment and all that but it would have been nice, just for once, for the geeky girls to see one of their own (one of OUR own, let’s be clear) up on the screen. Especially getting the boy. Geeky boy characters in films can be played by geeky and awkward looking actors and still get the hot girls; see Jesse Eisenberg in the atrocious Social Network and Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim and er, absolutely everything he’s ever been in. Nerdy boy characters are played by nerdy looking actors. Geeky girl characters are played by ravishingly beautiful actresses wearing spectacles, at least for the first half an hour.

And girls have to behave themselves too, up on the screen. The film allowed Dexter to keep his coke addiction and his sleazy sexual tastes, but we didn’t get to see Film-Em’s little stash under the bed and her extramarital dalliance with her head-teacher boss got airbrushed too.

Well it could have been worse I guess. Em could have been played by Megan Fox, although even she couldn’t possibly have make a worse job of the accent.

So geeky girls, it’s back to the books.

I’ll bring the popcorn.

About number6

I am not a number, I am a free woman. More or less.
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