We’re not sure why it seems so hard to adapt a memoir to the big screen. Though hundreds of movies made each year are adapted from novels and short stories, relatively few are built from memoir — despite the fact that the form has been at least as popular as novels in the last two decades, and may be more beloved by the general public. So why are there so few memoir-to-movie deals? And why are the ones that do exist often not very good?
After seeing the film adaptation of Nick Flynn’s great memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, slapped with the anesthetized title Being Flynn, Slate‘s David Haglund wonders “if memoirs simply lose too much in the conversion from first-person prose to a medium in which genuinely first-person narration is very difficult to sustain.” It’s true — film is a third-person medium, not perfectly suited to portraying interior life. Plus, while we might slog through a poorly written novel on account of a ripping story, for us at least, a successful memoir has to rely even more on great line-by-line writing — a really beautifully written one can get us to care about the writer’s most petty grievances — and that may be difficult to translate to film. While the reviews of Being Flynn are mixed so far, we got to thinking about the few really great films adapted from memoirs. Click through to see our picks, and let us know if we’ve missed any of your favorites — or why you think the form is so hard to adapt — in the comments.
Persepolis (based on Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi)
Unlike many autobiographical tales, Marjane Satrapi’s wonderful graphic memoir about coming of age as a progressive girl in Iran managed to wholeheartedly maintain its brilliance on the big screen. While the graphic form undoubtedly made it easier on the filmmakers — they had gorgeous art direction built right in — the movie was true to the book, entertaining to the last, and evocative without being preachy. We recommend both formats highly.