Philip Roth: Not As Sexy On The Big Screen

You know that "Living Literary Legend" Philip Roth? He just turned 75. He wrote that thing about chicken liver. And he's still writing. His latest novel, Indignation, is coming out in September, far enough away that Roth hasn't even had his requisite fawning profile in the Times. But Scott Rudin has already bought up the movie rights in a seven-figure deal. Hey, you think being a recluse is cheap? It ain't. The only problem is that Philip Roth movies are never good. Why not?

For one, Philip Roth is a charmer. He can make Terry Gross giggle like a school girl. His characters are often nihilistic, immoral and selfish, but in Roth's rendering still come off as likable and relatable. The fact that women can like a book like Portnoy's Complaint, where they are routinely objectified, speaks to Roth's insane talent as a writer. But it's hard to film obsessive masturbation as beautifully as Roth can write it.

Without Roth's touch, his storylines turn to shit. Take the The Human Stain. The Times called the book "beautifully nuanced" and the adaption an "honorable B+ term paper of a movie."

So this movie deal is a mistake. Why is Roth going through with it? $$$ is the easy answer, but the first guy who lived to see his work published by the Library of America probably doesn't need it, even if heating his Connecticut manor is expensive. There's also glamor. Rumor has it that Roth bedded Nicole Kidman and then called a publishing buddy to brag about it. Which pretty much seems like exactly the sort of thing a Roth protagonist would do, so you can't say Kidman shoulda been surprised.

But why do women fall prey to Roth's charms? For that, we turn to my subconscious.

A few weeks ago, I had a dream that Philip Roth was being very nice to me. A friend said, "But he's Philip Roth, you know what that means," to which I replied, "Yeah, but he's Philip Roth!"

Such charisma doesn't film well.