We live in a cultural moment where any newsworthy event, person, or product that even hints at a storyline is considered fodder for movie rights pursuit. So I shouldn't have been surprised recently when the studio I work for requested coverage on a website.
We readers generally cover screenplays, plays, novels, non-fiction books and the occasional magazine article. A website usually lacks characters or plot development. It’s by nature antithetical to classic story structure and is often fluid in form as opposed to fixed; one updates a website with new photos and posts, et al, whereas the notion of say, Gillian Flynn “updating” Gone Girl is nonsensical.
But stranger things have happened, like a toy for children yielding a blockbuster movie franchise. Given Transformers, why shouldn’t the website 40 Days of Dating be a movie? 40 Days, if you haven’t already been made aware of it, was created by designers Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman, and… well, let Time Magazine explain:
“The beautifully constructed website—which went live in mid-July—chronicles the experiment of two long-time friends fed up with the New York City dating scene who begin a relationship told through a series of daily blog posts. …The pair will see each other every day, they will go on at least three 'dates' each week and, most crucially, they will not 'see, date, hookup, or have sex with anyone else.' …Walsh and Goodman jumped headlong into a fully formed relationship, complete with weekly couples therapy sessions.”
As a sort of conceptual performance piece, 40 Days of Dating couldn’t be more 2013: two 20-something singletons consciously deciding to have a romantic relationship with each other, ostensibly to see if they can transcend their respective psychologies and like, learn something, while exhaustively analyzing and commenting on each day spent together, via social media? How perfectly meta is that.
The totally up-to-the-minute self-consciousness and tacit narcissism of it all would be hard to take if the site weren’t so well done. It really is a thing of beauty, with bright, clever graphics and gimracks (reportedly the work, in part, of a vast team of contributors). Walsh and Goodman have written bright, clever, sometimes poignantly honest he-said, she-said daily introspections annotating the trajectory of their affair.
Day 40 wrapped last week. And while it was running live, counting off the days, the site maintained the narrative tension we associate with reality TV: would Jessica, a woman seeking true love, and Timothy, a man scared of commitment, ultimately make a real go of it?
If the air went out of this adventure for you when you read the last sentence, you’ll understand why thinking of 40 Days as a movie doesn’t exactly electrify one with excitement. If I were doing notes on the project as a fictional screenplay, I’d be duty bound to point out that we’ve already made and seen this movie hundreds of times, its most recent friends-to-lovers variation starring these guys:
And if I were hired to do rewrites, rethinking the clichéd stereotypical rom-com characterizations would be my first task: hey, couldn’t he be the one looking for love for a change, and she the commitment-phobe? And could we maybe add zombies? (Though they made this one, already, too: Warm Bodies.)
Walsh and Goodman, who’ve had their mutual learning experience and made names for themselves in the process, have signed with CAA. I’m sure the site’s been covered all over town by now. But here’s the thing: Unless you make 40 Days of Dating as a documentary, it lacks any must-see appeal. Once you remove the frisson of “it’s happening now with two real people’s lives at stake,” to be brutally honest… who cares?
I’m not saying it can’t be a movie, and one can imagine a “director with a vision” translating all those great graphics and pithy observations into some very 2014 po-mo pinball cinematic experience. But why? Why does every project that attains some level of popularity, however niche, have to be dutifully recycled into some further commercial iteration?
Some musicals make great movies; some books (we miss you, Friday Night Lights!) have made great TV series. 40 Days of Dating is a great website, and as a website, during its run, it provided its organic (i.e. online) audience with great entertainment. This was largely due to a savvy manipulation of its natural medium. Its finite pleasures were a click away, and at chosen procrastinatory moments during our own busy days, we clicked where we wanted to get the voyeuristic thrills and electrical neuron surges we desired. Now we can all move on.
Meanwhile, I find myself intrigued by adaptations that go the other way. Some years ago, my friend playwright/screenwriter Gilbert Girion developed a screenplay for his friend, actress Kathy Baker. The project never got set up, but the material stayed with Gilbert; eventually the story morphed into a fictional novella. It’s being published this week by the Pleasure Boat Studio press.
Gilbert is a fine writer, and one of the most interesting aspects of his Sound of a Train is how its style and overall aesthetic ethos resonate with the transformation of what had been screenplay language into a uniquely personal voice on the literary page.
The book follows a woman and her dog on a haunting, often humorous odyssey, replete with the kind of sentences that make you want to earmark its pages. What Gilbert discovered in the process of rethinking his material has resulted in a distinctive, memorable work. The published novella justifies its having been “adapted” because the kind of writing Gilbert Girion is doing has its own integrity; his story makes sense in this form, and it can stand alone as a work of imaginative fiction.
Until, of course, some studio wants to buy the rights…