Ranking Nick Hornby’s Film Adaptations

This summer, the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 2009 novel Juliet, Naked is expected to get (limited) American distribution.I’m looking forward to finally having the opportunity to see it, though, in truth, not every adaptation of Hornby’s novels has been a great, but the film was produced by Apatow Productions, and Chris O’Dowd (from The IT Crowd) plays Duncan—which is perfect. So, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be a solid entry in the growing list of Nick Hornby novels adapted to film. As of now, only two novel haven’t been adapted yet, How to Be Good, and Funny Girl… and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither do end up on the big screen.

So, in anticipation of the forthcoming American release of Juliet, Naked, I decided to rank the current film adaptations of Hornby’s books.

5. (Tie) Fever Pitch (1997 and the 2005 remake)

I hesitate to even include these adaptations since they are basically fictionalized versions of Nick Hornby’s nonfiction book of the same name.  The 1997 version featuring Colin Firth marginally beats the 2005 American version with Jimmy Fallon since the former actually involves Arsenal, the football/soccer team at the center of Nick Hornby’s 1992 autobiography. The 2005 American remake had nothing to do with Hornby’s book, and despite technically being a film adaptation of it, isn’t even listed on his (seldom-updated)  official website as one of his films, and with good reason. Rather than taking place in England, the film takes place in Boston. Instead of football/soccer, the protagonist is obsessed with the Red Sox. It seems they merely licensed the use of the title, and that hardly seemed worth it to me. The 1997 film is not my cup of tea either. So, these two basically get honorary positions at the bottom of the list.

4. Slam (2016)

This was a tough one to rank because this adaptation was produced in Italy and therefore, is in Italian. In fact, I hadn’t even bothered to watch this adaptation, figuring it be too difficult to enjoy by reading subtitles. But, for the purpose of this list, I decided I had to watch it and as luck would have it, it is currently on Netflix. One thing I will say about it, is that, it stays quite true to the source material, which is why it comes ahead of the Fever Pitch movies. It’s been a while since I read Slam, but I still recognized that much of the dialogue was straight out of the book, and what was changed was mostly minor. I don’t know whether it was the fact that I was reading the subtitles or not, but I felt the acting was only fair and some of the characters were miscast. Generally speaking I like it when movies stay true to the source material, there are always reasons to cut things from the movie, and this movie could have been improved by taking out some characters. In the book Sam has a dumb skater friend called Rabbit who is in this movie, but didn’t translate to film very well. Also, the arc involving Sam’s mother getting pregnant happens in the film, but would not have been in the film either.

3. A Long Way Down (2014)

This was a somewhat disappointing movie even though it mostly stays true to the source material. I was mostly bother by what I felt were some unfortunate miscasts and a few unforgivable plot changes—most notably the romantic relationship that is revealed at the end between the JJ & Jess characters.This novel is not as loved as other Hornby novels, but I’ve read it a few times and was excited about another Hornby novel-to-film adaptation. Perhaps it just wasn’t going to meet my expectations because they were too high. In fact, I’ve only bothered to see this movie one time because I didn’t want it to poison the novel. Perhaps I was too harsh and should watch it again, but the casting of the film always bothered me. Aaron Paul was just not right for J.J. and Toni Collette (who previously starred in the adaptation of Hornby’s About A Boy) just didn’t match what I envisioned her character to be. The best casting of the four main characters was Imogen Poots as Jess. I suspect this was difficult to adapt properly because the novel tells the story via each of the four characters rotating POVs. The story progresses with us returning to each character’s perspective many times very effectively, while the movie tries to accomplish a similar effect, though only once per character—it was pointless to attempt in the film.

2. About A Boy (2002)

I love this film. It’s a huge leap ahead compared to A Long Way Down. Personally, I enjoyed the novel of A Long Way Down more than the novel of About A Boy, but I’ll prefer the film version of About A Boy over A Long Way Down. No question. This film definitely takes some liberties with the source material, seeing as the novel takes place is 1993 and the movie came out in 2002. The music of Nirvana and the death of Kurt Cobain plays a significant role in the later events of the novel which would not have worked so well, and so the climax of the film is completely different. Marcus’s father’s role in the movie is greatly reduced from the novel. But, it is still a solid film, perfectly cast, and it was even nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. I’ve watched this movie several times over the years because it is a great flick in its own right.

1. High Fidelity (2000)

Not only is High Fidelity a phenomenal film adaptation, I would consider it the gold standard of film adaptations. I’ve read the book and seen the film multiple times each and love them both. The film stays surprisingly true to the source material (with really only a few changes), and the moving of the story from London to Chicago was flawless. The novel is rich with monologues from the main character Rob, which is translated to the film with voice overs and the character breaking the fourth wall by talking directly to the viewer. The casting is spot on. Bruce Springsteen has a cameo. Jack Black was perfect as Barry. The only negative that can really be said about it is that Harold Ramis had a small role as Rob’s (John Cusack’s) father that was cut from the final edit of the film. It is a shame there hasn’t been a director’s cut released on DVD/Blu-Ray because it be great to see Ramis’s role and other scenes restored.

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