When filming of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving began in Atlanta last month, Jonathan Evison’s novel joined a distinguished list of Algonquin books adapted to the screen. Larry Brown’s Joe, starring Nicolas Cage, was released in 2014. There was Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, which will soon be a Broadway musical, and Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish, which made into both a film and a musical. Plus Cobb, which was a 1994 movie starring Tommy Lee Jones. Bill Roorbach’s Life Among Giants is in development at HBO, and Charlize Theron’s Denver & Delilah production company has optioned Gina Frangello’s A Life in Men.
In the Revised Fundamentals movie, Paul Rudd will play Ben Benjamin and Selena Gomez will portray Dot, casting choices that Evison is thrilled with. “Since Ben’s character is in many ways me, how could I not love the Paul Rudd choice? He’s hilarious, hunky, and universally loved. Selena won her part and worked her tail off to get it. She had something like forty offers, and Dot was the only part she wanted. It took her five months to win the part, and I love her commitment to the role.”
Evison was initially cautious about the possibility of seeing the characters of his imagination come alive on-screen.
“I’ve been through the option process a couple of times, with a couple of different books, so generally my attitude is not to get too excited about film-related stuff. It really is such a long shot. So many people have to get on the same page. But with [Revised Fundamentals screenwriter and director] Rob Burnett it was different. He was determined to get this film made, and he never faltered in his tireless efforts to make it happen. In fact, he made it look easy, which is a gazillion miles from the reality.”
Sara Gruen was similarly cautious. “Most film options never turn into films,” she says. “I almost couldn’t believe it” when she learned that the Water for Elephants movie was a go.
Daniel Wallace wasn’t just guarded about a movie version of his novel Big Fish. He was shocked. “It made no sense to me. Big Fish is the last book you’d ever think could become a movie. It has one character and no plot.”
And then actually seeing their books come to life?
“Surreal,” says Gruen. She recalls visiting the WFE set and seeing the Benzini Brothers Circus for the first time. “I was speechless. For so long, that whole world was all inside my head and suddenly I found myself inside it.”
Wallace described his own experience as “very odd. My vision was somewhat different [from what was rendered on-screen]. Not necessarily better, just different. I had to watch the movie three times before I was able to see it as a movie, apart from the book, and appreciate it for what it was.”
Evison is sanguine about letting go of the reins. Though he will visit the set and may be in a scene, he will otherwise have little involvement with the adaptation, “which is how I like it. I told Rob it was his baby now, and I’m excited to see him run with it. I have no doubt it will be a charming, funny and affecting film.
“It’s been amazing to watch it become a reality,” he says. “I’m incredibly excited that the film will extend the life of the book and bring the story to new audiences.