Human beings have always sought out entertainment. Before we were able to project moving pictures onto a screen, the theater was a person's best bet to watch a story play out in front of them. I grew up in Ashland, OR, which is home to the biggest and most acclaimed Shakespeare festival in the United States, so stage plays were very much a part of my entertainment education. As a child, I would brag to my friends that I could "speak fluent Shakespeare". Did that declaration make me many friends? No, not really. But when we went on class field trip to the theater, everyone wanted to sit next to me in hopes that I could translate for them.
Needless to say, I get excited whenever it's announced that a filmmaker will be adapting a stage play for the screen. So, in honor of the new Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, here are my favorite stage to screen adaptations.
7. Salome (2013)
2013's Salome (production finished in 2010) is a very strict adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play. It tells the biblical story of a girl named Salome who agrees to perform "the dance of the seven veils" in exchange for John The Baptist's head on a silver platter. I never saw the play performed, just read the script, which is a shame seeing as it's meant to be a very visual story. Salome's dance in itself is the most important scene, and reading about it just isn't the same, so I was happy to see an accurate representation on screen. The movie stars Jessica Chastain as Salome, Al Pacino as Kind Harold, and Kevin Anderson as John The Baptist. The actors are in modern dress, but otherwise, it feels like someone filmed a theater performance. Al Pacino was the driving force behind the project, and also released a documentary on the making of Salome called Wilde Salome in conjunction with the film's release.
6. Les Miserables (2012)
Les Mis is not my favorite play. Never has been. I love musicals, yes, but Les Mis is not a musical, it's an opera. I find the format exhausting. For some reason, the film being one long song created more of a sensory overload than when I saw the production. That being said, it was an excellent adaptation and true fans of the play agree. Yes, Russel Crowe was miscast, but he did the best he could, and everyone else made up for his shortcomings. Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars that year for her role as Fantine.
5. Closer (2004)
Closer, the stage play, was written by Patrick Marber in 1999. It tells the story of two couples whose relationships become complicated when the man from one couple meets the woman from the other. It boasts an all-star cast that consists of Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Clive Owen. Both Portman and Owen received Oscar nominations. The play attempted to paint a realistic portrayal of modern relationships and the lies we tell ourselves especially in regards to intimacy. The film expertly conveyed the same message.
4. August: Osage County
I thought I had a dysfunctional family, I really did. Then in 8th grade, I saw August Osage County at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and my world was put into perspective. OSF's rendition won a plethora of national awards, and was obviously chalk full of incredible performances. Long story short, I was thrilled to see the play I fell in love with being brought to the big screen with an ensemble that included Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Julia Roberts, and Meryl Fricken Streep. Compared to the stage version I saw, the film was a bit of a disappointment. Still, if you like dysfunctional family dramas, or are a fan of Roberts or Streep, I'm sure you'll like it.
3. Into The Woods (2014)
Into The Woods is probably my favorite musical since 1982's Annie. However, 2014's Into The Woods isn't the greatest stage to screen adaptation. Why? The play is roughly 3 hours long, and in an attempt to tell a cohesive story, most of what they took out was from the 2nd act. It's meant to be told in two relatively distinct acts. Act 1 focuses on the character's wishes, AKA, the events preceding the perceived "happily ever after." At a certain point, the supposed good guys win, and their wishes are granted. The Baker and his Wife have a baby, Cinderella Marries The Prince, The Witch becomes beautiful, Jack and his mother get rich...The story is then about the repercussions of the measures the character's took to achieve their happily ever after, which have severe consequences for many of them. In an effort to fit in the whole story, the film neglected the continuation of the character development in the second act. The result was an expert adaption of the first act and a rushed version of the 2nd. In my opinion, all is forgiven by Sodenheim's soundtrack and the performances from the talented ensemble. Into The Woods stars Oscar Nominee Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Tony Award Winner James Corden as The Baker, Golden Globe Winner Emily Blunt as The Baker's Wife, Chris Pine as Prince Charming, Emmy Winner Christine Baranski as The Wicked Stepmother, Johnny Depp as The Wolf, and Oscar Winner Meryl Fricken Streep as The Witch.
2. Miss Julie (2014)
Miss Julie was written by August Strinberg in 1888, and was brought to the big screen in 2014 for the second time. In my opinion, the adaptation should have earned its stars some awards attention. I understand why it went unnoticed by The Academy, though. No one saw it, and thick accents can be difficult to understand if you don't have much experience listening to them. Additionally, the film was a very strict adaption of a play, so it was set in basically one room and consisted of mostly dialogue. Nevertheless, the three actors in the movie (yes there were only three), Chastain, Colin Ferrel, and Samantha Morton, all gave impressive performances, Chastain most of all. The story is like a more tragic Romeo & Juliet, and the character called for complicated, layered, larger than life personality and a subsequent mental deterioration that could only be written about before modern psychiatry. She needed to bring a lot of energy and passion to the role, and she did just that. There's good acting, great acting, and what my dad would refer to as "face melting" acting. The performance must be almost unreal to garner the description "face melting," but Chastain's performance deserves the description. Here's her Oscar-worthy scene:
1. Carnage (2011)
2011's Carnage is based off the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. It's similar to Miss Julie in that it's an in-depth character study that takes place in one location over a matter of hours. Carnage is about two couples who meet under tenuous circumstances and try to save face despite an intense dislike for each other. It's a fatalistic and terribly honest study of human nature. Obviously, because I rated it number one, I think it's an excellent film and highly recommend you watch it. The deft performances of Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Riley, and (especially) Jodie Foster elevated the film to inspired heights. It also may very well be the last time Hollywood sees the legendary Jodie Foster on screen.