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Monday, March 20, 2023

John Krasinski’s First Film Is Still the Only David Foster Wallace Adaptation

From his breakout role as Jim Halpert on The Office to his auteurist bid with the Quiet Place series, John Krasinski has firmly established himself as a major name and face in entertainment. Even for a celebrity with such a high approval rating among the public, career output is not always going to be perfect. Case in point, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which was Krasinski’s directorial debut. While ambitious, the film does not entirely work on any level, but perhaps the greatest takeaway from the 2009 indie is its star-studded cast. That alone makes the film an interesting study of the influence that Krasinski had in the business at the time as well as an indicator of his future in Hollywood.


The Difficulties of Adapting David Foster Wallace

No matter how ambitious the project is, adapting the work of the late David Foster Wallace is an immensely ambitious task. One might call it borderline impossible. Krasinski’s film, which was adapted from Wallace’s collection of short stories of the same name, indicates why his work was never adapted for the screen before or since its release. His prose and thematic ideas are so particular and unique that anyone else attempting to mimic his text will fail. Just at face value, Wallace’s books, all filled with sharp metafiction and sprawling narratives, are not compatible with cinematic sensibilities. Any criticisms of the film can be mitigated by the fact that possibly no one will ever succeed in adapting his work. Selecting Brief Interviews as the first true adaptation of Wallace seems like an accessible transfer, as the book tackles ideas surrounding relationships and modern masculinity, but the framework of it is still too idiosyncratic, thus lending Krasinski’s film to lacking cohesiveness.

Julianne Nicholson in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’ Has a Star-Studded Cast

While viewers may struggle to follow along with the film’s wavelength, they should at least be interested in the faces that routinely pop up onscreen. The cast of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is filled to the brim with engaging and steady screen presences, made up of Julianne Nicholson, Corey Stoll, Josh Charles, Clarke Peters, Bobby Cannavale, Max Minghella, Will Arnett, Will Forte, Rashida Jones, and more. Just about every scene features a recognizable face. They are displaying effort, but no one in the cast is giving their best work. This is another detriment spawned from Krasinski’s direction. The performances are anything but natural, and they feel overwhelmed by the weight of the text that needs to be imparted. These character actors, who usually shine in other films for their realism, operate as the embodiment of how Krasinski interprets Wallace’s ideas rather than entrenched characters.

RELATED: 10 Less-Than-Great Movies That Have Great Casts

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a very small film, only ever having a limited theater release after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. While there is no record of its official budget, it’s clear that it was minuscule. It is hard to imagine the actors’ payment being extraordinary by any means, so there had to have been an alluring draw to the script, which Krasinski wrote. There is a strong possibility that, above all else, the actors were intrigued by working on a screen adaptation of a David Foster Wallace novel. Although adapting Foster’s work for the screen is nearly impossible, a screenplay is suited to capture or at least imitate his genius. When the time comes to flesh out the script, any thematic elements on the page or internal understandings of his work become unmanageable. More than anything, the stacked cast of Brief Interviews is a precursor to the influence and power that Krasinski would have on the industry later.

Julianne Nicholson and Chris Messina in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

What the Cast Says About ‘Brief Interviews’ and the Future Implications of Krasinski’s Career

As a leading man and creative auteur, Krasinski shows a thread of self-awareness of his image and career arc. His turn as a self-serious and grizzled action star in 13 Hours and the recent Jack Ryan series suggests a desire to not be defined as the lovable prankster from The Office, even though the ladder is where he shines best. That sentiment of expressing his self-assurance is present in Briefs Interviews with Hideous Men. This is where the overall weakness of the film lies. It thinks it is vastly smarter and wittier than it is. Krasinski brings many ideas to the table, but they lack any form of cohesiveness. The film’s numerous vignettes are designed to coexist with each other, as the characters in each talk about the matters of love and dating, with the brunt of the narrative centered around Sara’s (Nicholson) interview subjects and the insights they reveal about romance, which is juxtaposed to her own experiences. In their execution, however, they are fragmented and serve no greater narrative or thesis.

As previously noted, the cast is, in the end, the standout element of Brief Interviews. Regardless of how convincing the performances are, the actors are employed in more unconventional ways than usual. Wire alumni Clarke Peters and Frankie Faison portray interview subjects and show off an emotionally resonant side to themselves. The film is also a showcase for underappreciated role players, notably Cannavale and Stoll, who consistently improve whatever project they’re involved in and deserve greater starring opportunities. Arnett and Forte exploit their underused dramatic chops in an often thankless pair of roles. For Julianne Nicholson, this film is an insightful window into the splendid performances she would give on TV. dramas like Mare of Easttown. Doing the best with underwhelming material applies to just about everyone in the cast. It is a shame that the Wallace adaptation registered more clearly, or Krasinski could not construct his unique spin on the source material. In a more cohesive film, the cast could fully shine and fill any of the minor holes in Krasinski’s direction. The star/filmmaker, whose follow-up 2016 film as a director, The Hollars, another indie dramedy with a disappointing critical reception, seemed to have learned harsh lessons in the creative field. He finally struck gold in 2018 with A Quiet Place, and he has continued to thrive in the business in the years since and shows no signs of slowing down.

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