Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Town House" - Tish Cohen

Heck, I thought I was going to be sooo smart with my "About A Boy" reference, but a quick google search (Town House movie) proved I'm way behind. The big screen adaptation of Tish Cohen's "Town House" is already in the works, and it's been dubbed "About A Girl" so obvious are the similarities with the film starring Hugh Grant (itself based on a book by Nick Hornby).

When you already know the book you are reading is being turned into a movie, there is no way you are reading it the same way: you're wondering about who will play which role, how close the adaptation will be to the plot, the visual aspect of it all. I couldn't help doing a "Hollywood version" of "Town House" in my mind instead of the "regular" one I do with every book.

But it's silly, isn't it? The only thing that should matter is how much you enjoy the story itself.

I already knew "Town House" was on its way to the screen when I started reading it. But I wasn't prepared for being reminded constantly of films while I read it - "About A Boy", "As Good As It Gets" and that awful one where Bruce Willis meets his younger self. It brought back every movie with a anti-social male adult facing a psychological mid-life crisis with the help of a precocious/ adorable child, and a female character that he doesn't quite deserve, but in the end, gets.

Jack Madigan is an agoraphobe, who occupies a Boston Townhouse he inherited from his rock star negligent dad, who passed away when he was an infant. His wife has left him and his son Harlan is 17 and obsessed with "uncool": 70's shag carpets, polyester, Shawn Cassidy, disco balls etc.

His therapist of 15 years has proven, to say the least, unhelpful: Jack can't even retrieve the newspaper without suffering a full-blown panic attack.

It just so happens that the house, Jack's hub of security, is mortgaged and about to be sold, since he hasn't been able to meet the payments. His talent lies in a keen eye for colour, especially the subtleties of white, but being house bound has made his customized paint business nearly defunct.

The two characters that get Jack's recovery in motion are Dorrie Allsopp, a young blond bubbly real-estate agent (Reese Witherspoon or Kate Hudson could get the gig according to Cohen) and a nine year old girl (also blond) who despite having egocentric parents is full of joy and bravery (the author suggests Dakota Fanning's kid sister for the part).

From the start it's pretty obvious that a) Jack will find some last-minute way to save his house; b) that through his affection for both Dorrie and Lucie he will conquer his fear of the outside world.

The only question is, will Cohen make the road that leads to that inevitable end interesting, funny and surprising?
Not so much, would have to be my answer.

Some of the characters, most notably Harlan the son, never get off the ground. Even Dorrie is more of a sketch, and she deserved better. Lucie is life-like but then she is based on Cohen's memories of her own childhood. The house, that should have been a major character, actually suffers from a lack of it.

Every loose end is tied so nicely that I couldn't help but feel disappointed.

You see, what I felt Cohen portrayed very well is the despair of Jack's agoraphobia. I could feel the dizziness and his pounding heart when he left the house, his despair at wanting and failing to be normal. In the end it seems to go away so easily...
I couldn't help but wonder who he was - his phobia was what defined him throughout the entire book and then, he sort of disappears into a happy ending of promised normalcy.

I'm sure the romantic finale will play well on camera, but if it's a good read you're looking for, I'd suggest something different.

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