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Storied Books and Family Movie Night

A movie can leave a mark, that’s for sure. It can affect you profoundly, make you laugh, cry, or in the worst possible circumstance, leave you thinking, Welp! That’s fifty bucks and two hours I’ll never, ever get back.

Okay, maybe that’s just my take. But most of us agree that movies figure heavily into family life – whether you’re watching Netflix at home, divesting from the college fund for the theater experience, or pulling down the tiny monitor in the van that you promised each other you would only resort to on trips lasting four hours or longer.

For my part, movies used to matter a lot more this time of year, when me and my husband (and before him, it was my BFF) would set out to see all of the Academy Award-nominated films before the red carpet was rolled out. Nowadays, I consider myself well-informed if I’ve seen a commercial for one of the Best Picture nominees, read a review about it, or overheard people discussing it at Panera.

This year, even if you include Frozen (which is the only movie we all saw together, but technically not a real Best Picture nominee) my daughters saw more of the films than I did. That’s fine. I can usually get my movie fix vicariously. Except when the movie is so sleazy there isn’t a whole lot to glean from it, or from the 17-year-old who saw it.

Me: Was there a plot? Her: Yes, and Leonardo DiCaprio is very good-looking.

But I have to admit that even before my husband and I completely abandoned our couple’s commitment to seeing the slate of Academy Award nominees each year, another more family-inclusive movie trend had begun to take shape.

I’m talking about the fact that almost every middle-grade book the kids brought home from the library was being turned into a movie. Tuck Everlasting. Bridge to Terabithia. Because of Winn-Dixie. Back then, we couldn’t read them fast enough before the trailer popped up on YouTube. And it worked the other way too, with a kind of reverse-engineering for movies that were made into books. Bad, bad books. (Sorry Star Wars franchise, someone had to say it.)

Before I continue, let me make myself clear. This is not a rant about books that were spoiled by some director’s short-sighted attempt to re-imagine them for the big screen (this means you, every director who attempted to adapt Dr. Seuss). I happen to think every book deserves a chance at being a movie. After all, how could I possibly gripe about anything that encourages kids to connect with reading and writing?

A good book-to-film experience is a treasure. Between the discussions about casting, and why they left out or added what they did, despite the brilliant and noble author’s original intent – can you tell my children have a writer for a mother? – the dinner conversation alone is worth the movie ticket price to me.

And these movies are twice as memorable, too. Like the first book-to-film I ever saw – or I should say, heard. When I was nine, I somehow convinced my mother that I needed to see Jaws on the big screen. Hey, I’d read Peter Benchley’s novel. Okay, so it was the Reader’s Digest Condensed Book version of Peter Benchley’s novel, but still, Mom! Everyone’s seeing it! I whined. You have to let me go! I begged. And she did, because I had read the book. Only I didn’t really watch it; I had my hands over my eyes the entire time. To this day, my heart races when I hear that music: da nuh, da nuh, da nuh, da nuh. You get the idea.

The common denominator here? Decades ago, when Reader’s Digest was publishing condensed versions of popular novels, and parents thought long and hard before letting their kids see what might have been considered a graphic film, smart moms and dads encouraged their kids to read the book before seeing the movie.

Long story short (too late, I know): Neither my teen nor I read The Wolf of Wall Street, nor do I want to. But if you’re looking for a good family movie today, the bookshelf is a good place to start.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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