Return to site

The Worst Book-to-Movie Adaptation

Why Short Cuts is a sprawling, disgusting vomitorium of a film

· QandA,Movies,Book Lovers

This answer was originally posted on Quora. 

Q: What has been the worst book-to-movie adaptation?

A: There are some bad movies out there that made a mockery of their source material. But none was worse—ruining its source material for me even after the movie ended—as Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.

How can I say that, you ask? The 1993 movie has a 95% Rotten Tomatoes score! Yeah—I have no idea how movie critics loved it so much. It makes a mess of the themes, the characters, the plots, everything—of nine Raymond Carver short stories.

Carver is a minimalist writer, but the acting (from many of my favorite actors) and direction are completely over the top, jarring any viewer familiar with Carver’s work. The stories are not interconnected, but in the film they are, and it feels forced. In the stories, Carver explores the idea of normal people making some bad decisions and dealing with the repercussions, either emotionally or otherwise; you always see how they justify it to themselves, making even the worst characters somewhat sympathetic. In the movie, they just seem off-their-rocker crazy. The Wymans’ story, where the wife Marian (played by Julianne Moore) argues with her husband (Matthew Modine) wearing only a blouse, is a blatant attempt to show as much of Moore’s nether regions onscreen for as long as possible, under the guise of art; it comes off as creepy and weird—and both gratuitous and unsexy. I know some critics say that’s the point of the scene; I disagree.

Carver’s endings—often the most emotionally powerful part of his stories—are often changed or extended (e.g. Lyle Lovett’s baker), not only robbing them of their emotional heft, but also changing the plot so significantly in a couple of cases as to render the stories nearly unrecognizable.

I love Raymond Carver’s stories, and I often love Robert Altman movies, but Short Cuts is a sprawling, disgusting vomitorium of a film. It ruined Raymond Carver stories for me for several years—and no other film adaptation has ever made me not want to read source material that I previously enjoyed.