Nick Hornby - Books vs. Films

With Juliet, Naked rolling into theaters another of our favorite author’s books has been adapted, making Nick Hornby a force in the bookstore as well as in the theaters. But where does he fare best? And are his adaptations really worth seeing? (Seriously, is Juliet, Naked worth it?) We always assumed his books were superior, but how does a non-reader’s view of Hornby’s work stack up?

In the spirit of High Fidelity, we could have ranked the Top 5 Nick Hornby novels, but he only has seven, so that’s kind of stupid. Also, Fever Pitch isn’t a novel, and we’re not up to dealing with pedantic emails pointing out that fact. In that light, here’s the (not so) definitive rundown of Hornby’s work and how it stacks up to its adaptation.

Slam

Book Raking: 8; Film Ranking: 6
Slam explores teen pregnancy with the urgency as if it were written in 1982. It came out in 2007. One of Hornby’s least sympathetic characters, Sam, a skate-rat struggles with all the made-for-T.V. movie bullshit of being a 16-year-old father. Its adaptation also ranks at the bottom of barrel, and not just because it’s an Italian-language thing you watch on Netflix when you’re stoned, but because of its ho-hum subject matter.

A Long Way Down

Book: 7; Film: 4
Published a couple years before Slam in 2005, A Long Way Down marks Hornby’s first stab at painstaking sincerity, tackling a tale of five suicidal strangers coming together to form a bond and save themselves. See how stupid that sounds when it’s boiled down? Told from five first-person perspectives, it’s at least entertaining thanks to the postmodernist conflicting voices the ridiculous characters it introduces. More like Hornby trying on Douglas Coupland’s shtick for size, it’s entertaining but nowhere near vital. The adaptation at least recognized it was ridiculous and weighed in heavily as a comedy.

Fever Pitch

Book: 6; Film: 5 (American version)
You don’t have to be a soccer fan to connect with Fever Pitch’s exploration of sports fandom and the stories it inspires. Hornby’s memoirs about his own devotion to Arsenal Football Club and how the team’s on-field efforts paralleled events in his life were crisp, clear and passionate enough that you don’t need to care about soccer to enjoy it. While the book spawned a British adaptation with Colin Firth in the lead role, it also was nightmarishly Americanized years later, centering around the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 championship team, starring Jimmy Fallon. A movie starring the most annoying man in Hollywood about the most obnoxious fans in baseball. What’s not to hate about it?

Funny Girl

Book: 5; Film: N/A
Hornby’s most recent novel centers on a woman who lands a job appearing in a BBC sitcom in the ’60s, and how her show helped challenge social mores while remaining lighthearted. Hornby does both his characters and the era of garbage British television comedies well, casting both in a warm, loving light, but in retreating from contemporary pop culture into considered retro fandom, he loses much of the vision that made him a favorite.

Juliet, Naked

Book: 4; Film: 2 (our best guess)
Returning to his bread and butter – music-culture – after fucking around with other topics for more than a decade, Hornby’s 2009 novel is once again an exploration of fandom (see also: Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy) and a reflection on the pressures of fame and cult stardom. While the book centers around criticism, it touches on love, family and other great, wholesome topics that Hornby manages well.

How to Be Good

Book: 3; Film: N/A
Taking on the spiritual woo-woo world and the self-help industry wasn’t that far away from Nick Hornby’s regular stomping grounds of pop culture. His tale of David’s quest for self-improvement as he latches on to a spiritual guru has people giving up spare rooms for the homeless and donating their possessions to the poor in a misguided attempt to score karma (or impress their neighbors). The concept is pure sitcom, yet somehow Hornby makes it work. How the hell Hollywood hasn’t tried to make a shot at this is anyone’s guess.

About a Boy

Book: 2; Film: 3
About a Boy’s Will is Nick Hornby’s best crafted character: A guy living off royalties from a Christmas song his dad penned, he’s so miserable as to invent a son he doesn’t have in order to meet women at single-parent nights; somehow he comes off as less despicable and more loveable by the end of the book, mostly because he serves as a great father figure to Marcus, the child he “borrows” to meet girls. Marcus’ story revolves around a coming-of-age tale that centers on the grunge scene and Kurt Cobain’s death, pinning it firmly into the music-book canon where his work strikes the hardest. Despite having Hugh Grant play Will in the adaptation, the film never lives up to its source material, largely because, in an effort to keep it current, the Cobain subplot was erased.

High Fidelity

Book: 1; Film: 1
When the bevy of writers sat down to adapt High Fidelity into a movie, they knew what would work best: preserving the first-person intimacy that made the book an instant classic. It didn’t hurt to have John Cusack playing Rob, but letting him explain in monologues and asides essentially cut-and-paste from the novel didn’t hurt, either. Nick Hornby’s best man-child character, High Fidelity sinks into record-collector hell to pursue a late coming-of-age story that captured the essence of being single at the turn of the century.