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Friday, June 24, 2011

The Westing Game movie: Turtle Doesn't Have a Braid!!!

This post is only going to make sense if you've read the amazing young adult book "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin. This was book #2 for our Twitter book club, #jhbc. (We've actually migrated from Twitter to web-based chat. Our next book is "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett and we'll be discussing in early August if you'd like to join us.)

If you haven't read this book, you might want to skip this post you should go read it RIGHT NOW! Even as an adult, the book is just that good. And then come back to read this post. With the exception of one clearly marked paragraph, I'm not going to spoil the actual ending but I will be talking about a lot of plot points along the way.

What follows is a somewhat detailed comparison of the book "The Westing Game" to the 1997 childrens' tv movie "Get a Clue." The latter claims to be based on the former. (There is a Lohan movie of the same name - not that!) If you don't want either of these spoiled for you, you should probably skip this post. However, the movie is horrifically bad, which is why this post exists at all. See, I took one for the team, buying the movie with the intentions of circulating it among the other #jhbc members but since it's so terrible, I'm saving them all 90 minutes and writing this post instead.

You're all very welcome. Now, let's get started.

The foreward of the book discusses how Raskin did not write down to children because she didn't know how. It's not a surprise then that a movie aimed at children but based on the book fails on many levels because it tried too hard to simplify the story for their young audience, therefore dropping key elements from the book.

A major issue with the film is that it cuts out many of the original characters. I'll concede that it was tough keeping everyone straight when reading but by disposing of key characters, the movie lost out on the heart of the story. For example, there was no Flora Baumbach and her relationship with Turtle was one of my favorite bits in the book. Mrs. Hoo was absent, leading to the elimination of the entire storyline about theivery in the Towers. Mr. and Mrs. Theodorakis and son Theo were also no-shows, though Chris was still wheelchair-bound in an apartment with no real explanation of his family situation.

Remaining characters are quite changed in both superficial and substantial ways. The brunette Angela Wexler is now not only beautiful but also very entitled. Her fiance is no longer Dr. Denton Deere but instead she is engaged to the chauvinist and bumbling estate attorney, Edgar Plum. Dr. Denton does make a brief appearance as Angela's former biology professor and current doctor as the result of her superficial bombing injury. Jake Wexler is now a suspended stockbroker with a gambling problem that has caused his family to have major financial issues. Sydelle is a loner who comes across as crazy instead of desperate for attention (Angela barely tolerates her existence). Chris Theodorakis is no longer a birdwatcher but a computer programmer and the computer is used as a major crutch for solving the mystery. Grace Wexler is not nearly the heartless soul described in the book, at one point even standing up to Mr. Hoo when he references "the pretty daughter" by asserting that BOTH of her daughters are pretty.

Changes to the storyline are endless. With some characters completely MIA from the film, they still felt it was necessary to remove even more of those remaining from the actual game, leaving only ten possible heirs. Angela and Sydelle, Grace and Mr. Hoo, Otis and Bertha, Sandy and Judge Ford, and Turtle and Chris are the teams in play to inherit the $20 million. The rest of the clues play out largely as they do in the book, though Turtle and Chris spend a lot of time typing clues into his computer before eventually coming up with "America, the Beautiful".

There are a lot of other small changes that on their own weren't major but the totality of them was bothersome. Hoo's restaurant was on the first floor (there was no coffee shop). The heirs did not define their own professions, rather they were assigned. Grace hid the fact that she was remotely related to Westing, admitting it only after Chris and Turtle found his birth certificate. The will was read graveside, though there were a few scenes inside the Westing house. No smoke to start out the movie though, just a Halloween dare.

BIG SPOILERS HERE: One final major change was the character of Sam Westing himself. He was not generally portrayed as a very nice man (though he did have his moments). He was nice as Sandy but quite rude to Turtle when she comes to Eastman at the end. He does ask her to keep him in the loop about future events such as Otis and Bertha's wedding, Angela's graduation from medical school, Sydelle's trip to Hawaii, etc (this was actually a nice touch because the movie showed scenes of these things all happening at some point in the future) but then he basically said goodbye to her and there was no indication that the two of them developed any kind of relationship or of Turtle's future. And since Westing was actually shown in his disguises from the very start, it was very obvious that all four were played by the same man, often in horrible wigs. END OF BIG SPOILERS!

NO MORE SPOILERS, come back! Even with all of those changes, the movie could've been saved if there had been better writing and acting. There were some recognizable names in the cast and I know they're capable of better - Dianne Ladd, Ray Walston, Sandy Kirkland, Shane West. Shane, as Chris, was probably the worst - the stuttering was just painful. Very far away from the performance given by Colin Firth in "The King's Speech". Not that you would expect the same level, but it was really bad. Also, Mr. Hoo was overly exaggerated in a way that felt racist to me and I hate to see that kind of stereotype played out in a childrens' movie.

And so there you have my review of the movie. The fact that Turtle has no braid on the cover should've been a warning to stay away. What's Turtle without her braid? (Though she did do plenty of shin-kicking.) Sorry this was so long but even if you took 10 minutes to read it, that's 120 minutes less than you would've spent watching it.


C. Beth said...

Wow, that sounds so awful!! It's like they made likeable characters less likeable & vice-versa. The plot changes, costumes, etc. sound so annoying.

I really enjoyed the recap though--I think it was a good alternative to actually watching the movie. :)

Amanda said...

I just finished The Help and would love more information on your discussion!

I haven't read The Westing Game yet, so I skipped a majority of this post, but it's definitely on my "to read" list!

Melinda (Sew-Lin) said...

Oh my goodness, it sounds worse than I thought. Thanks for taking one for the team and writing such a great review.

Toriz said...

Due to not having read the book I didn't read all of the post, but I read enough to get an idea that the book sounds very interesting (will try and get hold of it to read) and that they changed the movie a lot... I hate when that happens!

Andi said...

Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I just finished reading the book with my class and they loved it! They said there should be a movie because it was such a great story. I figured I would take a look to see what there was. I appreciate the bitter disappointment your post has saved my class and me. Maybe one of them will grow up to be a movie producer and get it right...

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Panda Wanda Bananza LPS said...

Ikr!!!! I hated the movie! It was terrible and it completely screwed up the book!