They Should Make A Movie Of That: Bright Shiny Morning

April 20, 2016
This week’s Pawno is an interconnected ensemble piece set in the humble Melbourne suburb of Footscray. Here’s another interconnected ensemble piece (this time set in the slightly bigger region of Los Angeles) just waiting to be turned into a movie.

bright-shiny-morningWHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Controversial writer James Frey’s 2008 novel traces the lives of several characters living in Los Angeles: young runaway lovers; a Mexican-American maid; a married celebrity couple with a secret; and a homeless old man of Venice Beach. Interwoven with these stories are profiles of minor characters, and an historical account of Los Angeles from its beginnings as a dusty Pueblo settlement to the present-day. Amidst the various storylines of loss and gain, and luck and doom, there emerges a character study of Los Angeles itself: a palm tree-lined metropolis full of extremes, where the American dream collides with violence and depravity.


One of Frey’s trademarks as a writer is the relentless immediacy of his prose (his plot zooms in on characters in cinematic snapshots), while the diversity of his storylines result in a bristling collage of personalities, set against the backdrop of a sprawling city which lends itself to film beautifully, even when its uglier side is being explored. Though the primary characters in Bright Shiny Morning may seem clichéd – the troubled lovers on the run, the public figures living a lie, the doomed love affair, the down-and-out desperado with a heart of gold – their plights are timeless tales that have the potential to become originals in the right hands.


A character study like Bright Shiny Morning calls for a director who, like the late Robert Altman, can corral a diverse ensemble cast, while focusing on each individual actor’s strengths and performances, and each character’s innate richness: Paul Thomas Anderson would be an obvious choice. Anderson does LA-set character-driven stories exceptionally well, as evidenced by the critically lauded Magnolia and the quirky Punch-Drunk Love. His filmmaking style is visual and vibrant, as best shown with his compelling 1997 drama Boogie Nights, which would allow for the juxtaposition of the beauty and grime of Los Angeles and its inhabitants to really shine.

Michael Pitt

Michael Pitt


Dylan and Maddie, the young couple who flee dreary smalltown America for sunny LA, only to find themselves the tragic victims of their own bad choices, would be well portrayed by Michael Pitt, a master of angst-ridden characters, and the expressive Anna Kendrick. Esperanza, the quiet, intelligent Latina from East LA, who declines a college scholarship and ultimately works as a maid for a cruel, privileged white woman in one of the city’s upscale enclaves, could be played by television’s unassuming America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), with her eventual unlikely lover a good fit for repeat Anderson favourite, John C. Reilly. The book’s most amusingly clichéd roles of Amberton and Casey, the beautiful married actors whose personal lives are masked by their sham public personas as “America’s sweethearts”, could be played by any number of Hollywood’s leading stars, but would be interesting in the hands of real-life “perfect couple” Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Finally, the character of Old Man Joe, perennial drunk and resident of a public bathroom on LA’s eclectic Venice boardwalk, is tailor-made for Billy Bob Thornton, who can expertly immerse himself in superficially unappealing roles (like his acclaimed turn in 1996’s Sling Blade), and make them almost endearing.

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