Friday, October 01, 2010

Finding Forrester: A Review

This Week’s Edition of Friday at the Movies: Spotlighting Films About Writing

I’m reserving Fridays for writing about some of the movies that I love. This October I’ll be spotlighting five of my favorite films about writing. These are the movies that I turn to when I want to be inspired. I’ll be posting them in alphabetical order over the coming weeks.

Do you have a favorite movie about writing or about a famous writer? Please do share in the comment section below. I’m always looking for more movies to add to my list.

Tonight's Spotlight: Finding Forrester (a review)

"No thinking - that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is -- to write, not to think!"

This is one of many writing tips that Jamal Wallace learns from his mentor, William Forrester, in the 2000 drama, Finding Forrester. Theirs is an unlikely friendship. Wallace (played by Rob Brown in his first film role) is an African-American teenager from the Bronx who spends most of his time on the basketball court. Forrester (played by Sean Connery) is a reclusive writer, hiding in an apartment, and using binoculars to spy on the neighborhood. Wallace's friends dare him to sneak into Forrester's apartment one night, but when Forrester finds him, he runs off and accidentally leaves his backpack behind. It turns out that Wallace is an exceptionally gifted writer; his backpack is filled with journals of his writing.

Forrester is annoyed at Wallace for invading his privacy, but tosses the backpack and journals out the window (his comments are scrawled across the pages in red ink). Likewise, Wallace is annoyed at Forrester for reading his journals, but is also intrigued that someone has taken interest in his writing. He returns to the apartment with more of his work and slowly wins over the lonely and rather bitter old man.

Forrester is not the only one to discover Wallace's talent. Although Wallace has been underachieving at his inner city high school in an effort to fit in with his friends, he scores particularly high on the Stanford Achievement Test. This catches the eye of a selective private school (who are also impressed by his skill on the basketball court) and he is soon awarded a scholarship. In this new world and completely different culture, Wallace will find his friendship with Forrester particularly invaluable.

Directed by Gus Van Sant (of Good Will Hunting fame) and written by Mike Rich, Finding Forrester is a classic hollywood tale of unlikely friendship and the importance of following one's dreams. While this storyline might seem a tad cliche, it is rescued by Connery's convincing portrayal of a brilliant author who achieved the success many writers can only dream of, but ultimately found it a hollow victory. It could not bring him happiness.

Connery's and Brown's rapport drive the film, especially their conversations about writing. The film gives  a very unique image of the writer than one we are used to seeing. He is not to be shut up in a room all by himself, banging away on his typewriter. Rather, writing is a communal art, like music or dancing. It is to be shared and read aloud. Writers find their best ideas when brainstorming with others. (C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien certainly understood this when they formed The Inklings).

Though Forrester has much more experience than his young protégé, it is Wallace who utters one of the most mature and insightful lines in the movie, berating Forrester for hiding from the world, and having a locked file cabinet full of writing that nobody else can read. Forrester is squandering his gifts, burying them in the ground like the foolish servant in the Parable of the Talents. People are given gifts in order to use them to impact others, not to shut up their gifts in a drawer. Even if we write everyday, that writing will only be truly alive if others read it and are moved by our turn of phrase. One of the main purposes of writing (and of art in general) is to uplift and encourage the soul of man. Wallace accuses Forrester of being too scared to "walk out that door and do something for somebody else."

Ultimately, Finding Forrester tells a coming of age story about overcoming adversity -- having the tenacity to hone and develop one's individual talents. It certainly does not paint the road to success as trouble-free. Wallace soon comes into conflict with a teacher at his new school who refuses to believe that a student of Wallace's background could possess such a tremendous gift for writing. But Forrester teaches Wallace that it is better to exceed than simply measure up to the expectations of others. And in many ways the film exceeds our own expectations by taking a familiar plot-line and retelling it in a new and inspiring way.

Watch the trailer here.

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Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 10:10 PM


Anonymous The Progressing Pilgrim mused...

Thanks for the excellent review. I saw this movie a while ago. You definitely encouraged me to watch it again. How about a review on Breakfast at Tiffany's. If I remember correctly George Peppard's character was a writer.

10/02/2010 12:25 PM

Anonymous B.L.B. mused...

Wonderful review. Your insight inspires me to use my gifts. "I Remember Mama" was a good film about a writer's memoir.

10/02/2010 12:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous mused...


What a brilliant idea! How wonderful to know that you will be posting reviews of movies that many of us will find worth watching. Thank you.

I have appreciated many of your essays but this was delightful. Guess what I'll be watching tomorrow night?

So glad you are choosing to share your gift with the world instead of hiding it . . .

Mrs. Dulce Rock

10/02/2010 6:46 PM

Blogger Nicole Bianchi mused...

Thank you for the recommendations. :) There are a lot of great movies about writing.

And thank you, Mrs. Rock, for your encouraging words. I hope you enjoy the movie. God bless.

10/04/2010 1:55 PM

Blogger Michael mused...

"Of course I won!"

I'm glad to see you have such great taste, Nicole. This is a great movie.

10/04/2010 7:50 PM

Blogger Genevieve mused...

Yay! I can't wait to read more reviews!

Have you seen "Bright Star"? It is an understated, haunting, beautifully filmed little gem about Keats. I think you would love it if you've not seen it.

Another one that comes to mind is "Finding Neverland", which is about J.M. Barrie. I'm sure you've seen that one. =)

10/04/2010 7:56 PM

Blogger Genevieve mused...

Thought of another one! "Stranger Than Fiction", starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson. It's a fractured comedy, with a touching message and rather smashing finish.

10/04/2010 7:59 PM

Blogger Nicole Bianchi mused...

Thanks, Michael! It is a great movie. :)

Thanks for your comments, Jenna! 5 posts is not enough space to write about all the great films about writing. I just saw Stranger Than Fiction two weeks ago and loved it. I'll definitely be writing a review for that one.

And I did see Bright Star when it first came out in the theater.

Thanks again.

10/09/2010 3:44 PM

Blogger Gregory Rehmke mused...

This is great! I had not heard of this movie. Movies about writing... I remember "A River Runs Through It" has some writing and editing featured.

The Whole Wide World is about the author of the Conan the Barbarian pulp fiction stories, and set in the small Texas town where Robert Howard lived. Of course Conan is not quite high literature...

2/16/2011 12:40 AM


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