Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Todd Strasser: The Good Son

I remember Joseph Ruben's film The Good Son (1993) mainly from seeing the Finnish translation of the novelization by Todd Strasser on the supermarket racks. I knew Macaulay Culkin's career had gone downhill and had read somewhere (remember: this was when the internet meant only some awkward e-mail software) that Culkin was playing a baddie in the movie. I'm always interested when actors I don't care for (or even hate) play baddies. (Take Bill Murray for instance. I hate him in comedies, but he's wonderful for example in John McNaughton's Mad Dog and Glory.)

I didn't know at the time, though, that The Good Son was already some years old and that it hadn't come to Finnish theaters in the first place. I still don't know why this was. Maybe it was because the Jamie Bulger case - the British censors even cut some seconds away from this film after the tragic event. The film was released here only on video, and the movie tie-in book by Strasser was published roughly at the same time. To this day, I haven't seen the film.

But I've now read the book. Todd Strasser seems to be a well-regarded YA author, but this, alongside with the movie tie-in of Super Mario Bros (!), is his only book translated in Finnish. He writes smoothly, but somewhat unimaginatively, at times retorting to clichés. The story is interesting, though, and it should be, since the screenplay for the film was written by Ian McEwan. Now, I'm not his biggest fan (I've read only his first, The Cement Garden, 1978, and I haven't liked the films based on his books, like Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers), but given his statue he should be able to come up with something worthwhile. And yes, the story of The Good Son is intriguing and even thrilling, even a bit implausible at times (the 12-year old boy should get caught for his actions many times, as he leaves lots of clues behind him). I just don't get what the story is about. Is it about mothers who care their kids to the borders of insanity? Is it about dads missing out on their sons' lives? Is it about the fear of death or is it about the love that conquers all fears? Maybe McEwan's original script is more complex than Strasser's pretty simple narration (or Ruben's film which I haven't seen) and his points are just missing in this.

It's interesting, though, that Ruben has an auteuristic touch of doing stories about dysfunctional families: The Stepfather (from the Donald Westlake script!), Sleeping with the Enemy and this. There might be more in his filmography. But then again, he's also done Money Train...

There's a minor, but interesting anecdote in this: when I talked about the Finnish publisher of the book, Kari Lindgren (he of the Book Studio), he said that The Good Son (Serkkupoika in Finnish) was his best-selling movie tie-in ever, based only on the video release. What gives here?

Edit: I was mistaken about Bill Murray playing in a David Mamet film. I got him mixed up with Steve Martin, who's very good in Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner. I fixed that now. 


Anders E said...

One of those coincidences: I actually watched a Macaulay Culkin movie yesterday - the very funny satire SAVED! from 2004. He's really not a bad actor.

As for THE GOOD SON - this sounds similar in theme to William March's classic THE BAD SEED except it's about a 12 year old boy instead of an 8 year old girl.

Oh, and Bill Murray was in GROUNDHOG DAY and ED WOOD. Do you really hate those as well? Really?

Juri said...

Yeah, well, GROUNDHOG DAY is an okay film, but I can't help thinking that it might be better withoug Murray... ED WOOD I don't think as a comedy, and Murray's character in it is more a tragic one. I like him in the film, though.

THE BAD SEED is a book that I should be reading. I think I have the Finnish translation somewhere, but I'm not sure.