With that in mind, the screen adaptation starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Gattlin Griffith didn't disappoint at all. I'd dealt with the improbability of the storyline's details when I read Maynard's novel so that when it came to watching the movie from director Jason Reitman - known for more cynical contemporary fare (Up in the Air, Juno, Young Adult) - I went in having a pretty good idea of what to expect. And what I saw was a beautiful, mostly faithful rendition of Maynard's novel and its themes of loss, loneliness, heartache and the power of love. If the notion of a lonely divorcee and an escaped convict falling in love over the course of a holiday weekend strikes you as ridiculous, or melodramatic then skip the film, but if you can get past that captor/prisoner scenario and you're in the mood for an old-fashioned slightly pulpy romance I highly recommend it. Especially if, like me, you're up for a good cleansing cry every now and then.
The film begins with long slow shots of tree-lined country roads, the gorgeous canopies of leaves filtering the late summer's lazy sunshine and setting the stage for the long, hot, oppressive weekend to follow. It's a weekend that changes the life of the agoraphobic divorcee Adele (Kate Winslet), her 13 year old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and the escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) forever. It's the adult Henry (Tobey Maguire) who tells us the story via voiceover; a son who sees how his mother's loneliness and his own need to belong came together under Frank's watch. Watch is the word. Throughout the film, Frank and Henry both watch Adele, both constantly judging where they stand and I couldn't take my eyes off Adele either. Winslet with Adele's worry-worn expression etched upon her face is always a pleasure to watch, especially here as she subtly softens and melts over the course of the film as she realizes what Frank represents for her - a chance to finally not just love, but live again.
There's a striking passage in the novel where Henry's dad tells him how passionate his mother once was, and how raw that depth of feeling left her ... "It was like she was missing the outer layer of skin that allows people to get through the day without bleeding all the time." In Reitman's film, Henry's dad (Gregg Clark) doesn't go so far. But what he does tell Henry - "I just couldn't watch anymore" speaks volumes. After Henry's birth, Adele was plagued by a series of miscarriages and finally a still birth. While Adele remained trapped inside her grief, unable to live in a world full of other people's pregnancies and births, he had to turn away. It simply hurt him too much to stay, to watch her bleed.
That may be part of what troubles some audiences; the pain and pathos is just too much to watch. Too unbelievable. I don't always go for the believable, sometimes I go for the sighs.
And especially, Eric Steelberg's cinematography - see what he says about the film here - which doesn't just make for a beautiful looking film, Steelberg has used the camera to emphasize the shadows, the oppressiveness of this home where, long before Frank came on the scene, Adele had already made a prisoner of herself.
And a couple of things to make you wince: it's much less clear here than in the novel, that Frank is a good man, imprisoned due to a series of unfortunate events put in play by a bad woman. The film tells this part of the tale in a disjointed series of flashbacks, and while flashback Frank is perfectly portrayed by young Brolin lookalike Tom Lipinski, I'll admit the reveal could be confusing to those who haven't read Maynard's more clearly stated version of events.