It’s become a given that studios addicted to big returns from novel-adapted franchises, like “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” and “The Hunger Games” have tried to keep the profits going by mincing the final books in the series into two parts. Then Peter Jackson decided to stretch the slim volume that is “The Hobbit” into two, then three parts. And now we have another classic novel that will be sliced up to make two movies–Deadline reports that Gary Ross will direct a new adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” starring Jennifer Lawrence. At this point Lawrence must be so used to starring in multi-part franchises that she probably has “Silver Linings Playbook II: Crazy for You” pencilled into her calendar.
“East of Eden” does rate as a classic from one of the 20th century’s great American authors, but it is a pleasantly melodramatic, fast and entertaining read. If you’re a high school kid and you’ve been given an assignment to read some kind of classic novel and you don’t want to be bored, try “East of Eden.” Set in the early 20th century, it’s a multigenerational saga set in California’s Salinas Valley. The main story focuses first on Adam Trask, his difficult New England childhood, and foray west into the Valley. He marries the beautiful and complicated Cathy Ames, but that marriage eventually falls apart. The second part of the book focuses on Adam’s relationship with his sons: Aron, the angelic one who never does wrong, and restless Caleb, who never seems to do anything right, but desperately craves his father’s approval. His search for their mother and decision to go into business profiteering off World War I eventually leads to disastrous consequences for Aron and Adam. Yet somehow there’s a happy ending.
The movie was famously adapted in 1955 by Elia Kazan with James Dean in one of his three movie roles. That version focused solely on the story of Adam, Cal, and Aron, with Jo Van Fleet giving an Oscar winning performance as the older Cathy. Dean became a star playing Cal. The new version will cover the whole book, with Lawrence playing Ames, at least in the first part. I’m not sure how they would fit her into the second book as the much older Cathy, but hey, people said she was too young for “Silver Linings Playbook” and that didn’t stop anyone from casting her. Maybe they can find some way to justify the early 20s Lawrence as a fiftyish Cathy, like saying she had Cal and Aron when she was five years old.
Ross and Lawrence worked together on the first “Hunger Games” movie. They’re also planning to shop another joint project, an adaptation of Hannah Kent’s novel “Burial Rites.” That one is about “a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. The drama takes place between the murder and the prosecution of the case against a woman who is victimized and powerless against the forces trying to send her to a public execution.” Kent better get to work on that sequel.
Ross is next planning to direct “Peter and the Starcatchers,” an adaptation of the successful play. Lawrence will next be seen in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”