Our new column, Read This, is a forum for us to write about something we’ve read that has something to do with movies ““ it could be a short story or a comic book, a newspaper article on 3D animation technology, or the unauthorized biography of Tom Cruise. Really, anything goes. As an avid reader, I volunteered for the inaugural column, and decided to read Marie Phillips’ novel Gods Behaving Badly because 1) the film version is currently in post-production, and 2) it’s not a dystopian teen novel ““ although I have a great affection for them, there’s just a little too many going around these days.
I’d been excited to read Gods Behaving Badly because it seemed just the kind of witty and amusing book I’m so fond of, it had really good press ( The Globe and Mail called it “Witty, fast-paced … Brilliant.”), and the premise is pure gold, in my opinion. Picture this: twelve Greek gods, their power fading, are living out their existence in a crowded flat in London. Having left their lofty Mount Olympus environs, they’re adjusting to a world in which they are increasingly less relevant. Bitter and resentful, the gods spend their time sniping at each other, playing practical jokes, and trying to relieve their boredom.
Enter the mortals. Naturally. When, in any story that includes Greek gods, have you ever known them not to mess with the mortals for their amusement and pleasure? Artemis, goddess of the forest, decides that after decades of filth piling up, the flat needs to be cleaned (no one expects gods to clean up after themselves). A cleaner named Alice is hired, with whom Apollo, the sun god, falls in love (after being struck by Eros’ love bow). She rejects him, and runs to her timid boyfriend Neil. Apollo’s anger and petty jealousy get the better of him and he has his dad, Zeus, throw a lightning bolt at Alice, killing her.
Neil is understandably inconsolable and, struck by the unfairness of it all, heads to the gods’ flat to figure out what shenanigans have been going down. And so begins a heroic journey for Neil, who, with the help of Artemis, gets past the River Styx, Hades and his wife Persephone, to track down Alice in the afterlife. Oh, and he also has to save the world.
The best part about the book is the premise, but the dialogue is also very satisfying ““ quick and funny (droll, really). I liked the way Phillips put the gods in modern situations (i.e., Apollo on a reality TV show) and used modern language. Unfortunately, the concept of it was just a bit better than the actual book. I liked it, and found it amusing, but I didn’t love it. I wanted it to be cleverer somehow. And I found myself wanting to skip ahead to the next segment of dialogue.
However, as I read the book, I felt that perhaps the dialogue and wit might be better served in a film, something to do a better job of visually contrasting the ancient gods with the modern world. Phillips does a great job of juxtaposing the supernatural pedigree of the gods with the mundane reality of their daily existence. I also think that could be better, or more pronounced, if rendered visually on film.
Happily, someone has already thought of that, and the film is set for a 2012 release. Hurray! Of course, we’ll see changes from the novel (as we always do), but so far, the only changes I know about are that they’ve moved the setting from London to New York, and that the mortal character Alice has been renamed Kate (which is disappointing ““ there’s a great line in the book about Apollo admiring Alice’s name, despite the fact that it contains the word “lice”).
As far as the production goes, Marc Turtletaub is directing. He also co-wrote the screenplay. Known for his production credits ( Little Miss Sunshine , Sunshine Cleaning , Away We Go , etc.), this will be his feature film directorial debut. But it’s really the cast that I’m intrigued by; notably, Sharon Stone as Aphrodite, Christopher Walken as Zeuz, John Turturro as Hades, and Alicia Silverstone as the mortal Kate. Also, the fabulous Nelsan Ellis (of True Blood fame) sports a head full of dreadlocks and plays Dionysus, god of wine and general debauchery. The strangest casting (and it could be really bad or really good) is Oliver Platt as Apollo. He’s supposed to be the sun god, golden, the ideal of athletic youth; Platt is frankly none of those things. I’m very interested to see how that plays out, and how the novel is transformed into film.
The book is a quick, light, and amusing read, and you might just want to get to reading it before the film’s release. If nothing else, it’ll help you bone up on your Greek god knowledge before the film comes out (like what they’re the god of, and who sired whom, etc.). Alternatively, if my suspicions are correct and the novel will translate even better on film, just wait “˜til the movie comes out!