Daniel Clowes, the graphic novelist responsible for “Ghost World“ and Mr Wonderful, is to alternative comics what writer-director Alexander Payne is to alternative movies: a bard of benign misanthropy; a bittersweet chronicler of dyspeptic loners who gradually remember their capacity for un-ironic human connection.
So there’s a distinct poetic rightness to today’s news that Payne is producing (with an eye to direct) an adaptation of Clowes’ graphic novel, Wilson, about a reclusive middle-aged crank, whose compulsive candor and self-negating humor limits his social sphere to include his dog and his dad. When the latter dies, he sets out to reconnect with his ex-wife and discovers a teenage daughter he never knew he had.
The prospect of Payne sliding into the director’s chair on Wilson is an exciting one, made all the more so by the fact it’s been nearly seven years since “Sideways,” Payne’s last feature film. That drought will end sometime next year, with the release of Payne’s adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, The Descendants, starring George Clooney as a real estate mogul attempting to restore ties with his estranged daughters.
Even though Payne hasn’t been keeping the director’s chair warm since “Sideways,” he hasn’t been idle. Payne directed a short segment in “Paris, je t’aime,” the ’06 compilation of cinematic love letters to the City of Lights. He also exec-produced “The Savages,” director Tamara Jenkins’ brilliant 2007 dysfunctional family black comedy starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as emotionally stunted siblings contending with their ailing father’s cruelty. And, in an odd, incongruous twist, Payne wrote the screenplay (along with longtime writing partner Jim Taylor) to the ’07 Adam Sandler lunkheads-pose-as-gay-couple comedy, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.”
The bottom line: It’s good to have Alexander Payne back behind the camera making the kind of movies only he can pull off, with equal measures of acerbic wit and deep human insight. Now the ultimate happy ending here would be the announcement of Payne’s commitment to direct. Then again, don’t get your hopes up. Happy endings have never been high on the agenda for Payne or Clowes.
Anyone else excited to get a fresh dose of Payne filmmaking? Or a Clowes adaptation? Or a fantasy combo of the two?
Photo of Alexander Payne courtesy of Fox Searchlight.