As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. This week, Print to Projector presents:
Anders Loves Maria
by Rene Engstrom
“Anders! Get in here! You have to see this!”
A free-wheeling photographer finally wants to settle down with a Swedish pixie dream girl, and even thought neither of them might be ready for the responsibility, they get pregnant. Over the course of nine months, the full spectrum of relationship drama plays out as well as the back stories for the major characters, culminating in the birth of the young human being these two have brought into the world.
There are a ton of webcomics out there, but there are very few like “Anders Loves Maria.” The usual dramatic and relational frustrations are present, but they’re amplified and taken down a path that most writers in the medium seem afraid to head down. Simply put, it’s not always a pretty picture. In fact, it almost never is.
The story is woven together with the modern fears of a youth culture that still pays rent, still has a job instead of a career, and finds itself responsible for the most precious thing we can be given charge of. It’s held together tightly by the exploration of early events in each main character’s life that has a direct correlation, impact, or metaphorical parallel to faithfulness, raising a child, or the simple act of connecting with someone else.
Some of it is amateurish, especially the early artwork, but it’s a deceptively deep read that you might find yourself looking up from and realizing you’ve spent 2 hours clicking through 250 web pages (and you’re too close to the end at that point to stop).
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
There really are few potential issues with adapting the work. Flashing back to foolish youth can be standard, and if the right screenwriter is involved, those vignettes of the past might work seamlessly with what’s happening in the present day. The characters would need to be rounded out more – it’s not all that often that the comic medium allows for as deep an exploration of roles as a film offers, and that rings true here. The goal of each panel is to be funny or hit emotionally with a punch line. The goal for the film would be far more fluid than that – feeling like one complete story instead of one story made up of 283 short stories.
Content-wise, some of the actions of the characters may seem jarring, especially to a sexually repressive American audience (including me) who has trouble with infidelity or the complexity of two fuck ups growing day-by-day closer to a life being placed in their hands. The pre-natal relationship minefield would be a challenge that pays dividends. Especially when people have to watch a 16 year old flashing her panties at a man almost double her age.
Visually, the difficulty would either be in scrapping the evolving artwork or in capturing styles that are better suited to the comic world than to the movie business. Embrace it fully or don’t embrace it at all.
He did it out of love:
This may be the linchpin of the project considering that the sexual hopscotch involved has the potential to appear melodramatic – a Swedish telenovela – if done poorly. Or if done decently. This project demands a writer more well-versed in the world of theater and the interlaced DNA of human beings to bring to life the sweet and horrific things we can do to the people we’re in love with. This project demands Neil Labute. He’s unafraid to injure the people he brings to life on the page, and he’s brave enough and clever enough to do it with grace. This might be like The Shape of Things, but far less diabolical, or like Your Friends and Neighbors blended with a particularly awkward episode of “Friends.”
It’s true that Labute usually directs his own writing material, but here’s one of those circumstances where his knowledge of the theater is fantastic for the final draft, but not necessarily appropriate for the director’s seat. Plus, it would be nice to have Swedish talent for the Swedish source material. Luckily, the Swedish director Lasse Hallström would be able to bring a veteran’s knowledge of interpersonal drama earned by What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, The Cider House Rules, and The Hoax.
I have problems!:
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Anders: Even with my desire to make this as Swedish as possible, in order to play in the US it would either have to be about young vampires and a Rubik’s cube or be anglicized in more than a few ways. Notably in the story, but also in the casting. Meyers seems to be the first name that came to mind when thinking of a self-absorbed, myopic ass who sticks his member in just about everything. This isn’t a personal assessment, but one probably born from watching too many episodes of “The Tudors.”
Noomi Rapace as Maria: Rapace has gained a ton of fame from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and she’s fortunately in that sweet spot of age to be able to play an immature girl closer to 30 than 20. Maria is at the same time spoiled, sarcastic, vulnerable, brassy and downright weird.
Justin Long as Johan: Long’s name is one that usually raises an eyebrow, but he’s more talented than people give him credit for, and he would be fantastic as the video game-obsessed, bitterly caustic older brother of Maria.
Portia Doubleday as Tina Törnros: Doubleday surprised a lot of people when she co-starred in Youth in Revolt. Very calculating and confident inside her own skin. That appeal is exactly what’s needed for Tina, the small town gas station employee who gets completely enmeshed in the sexual situation and faces a dark journey after having her heart broken.
Who Owns It:
The webcomic is being turned into a book, but as of yet there’s no intention to make it into a movie. At least, there’s no information on it if there is. Or all of that information is written in Swedish.
It has the potential to really only appeal to a small group of high-minded (or faux high-minded) film goers who want to talk about the depth of humanity displayed in Anders eating out a girl in the dark room, but the challenge here is to make it more accessible without losing any of its edge. Yes, there’s a lot of sex and sexual politics here, but there’s a lot of sex and sexual politics in life. The key is to present it naturally, unabashedly, and not to muck the whole story up by tiptoeing around or giggling from behind the camera at it. There’s a human story underneath all the snark, and with the right pieces in place, this could be a truly interesting, alter-world Juno where a man and a woman attempt to grow up in time to be a father and a mother.