Thursday, February 13, 2014
(November 1990, U.S.)
Once again, coincidence and circumstance are ever-present in my blog writing. As I sit here writing my post for Rob Reiner's film adaptation of Stephen King's MISERY, whose premise is ultimately provoked by a raging Colorado snow storm, a nor'easter is blowing right out side my window here on Long Island. Certainly sets the mood, doesn't it?
I read the original novel of MISERY when it was first published in 1987. From the moment the rather oddball character of heavyset nurse Annie Wilkes was introduced in the story, the first person that came to mind to play here in a movie was a woman named Nancy Parsons. "Who the fuck is Nancy Parsons?", is what you're probably asking yourself right now. Well, remember the movie PORKY'S (1982)? Remember the character of fat, mean 'ol gym coach Beulah Balbricker; the one who grabbed Tommy Turner's dick in that famous shower scene? Ah, starting to remember her now? Starting to get the picture of what my brain was thinking in 1987? This was just the physical type of woman I could picture as the diabolical "number one fan" of writer Paul Sheldon's "Misery" novels who would just be kooky enough to keep him bed-ridden and drug-dependent against his will. So cut to three years later when I first see the poster announcing the film version and my immediate reaction is surprise that a comedy man like Rob Reiner is the director. But on the other hand, he did bring justice to STAND BY ME (1986), another Stephen King adaptation, so perhaps anything was possible. James Cann as Paul Sheldon - why not? Great actor. But wait, who exactly is Kathy Bates? I was sure I'd seen her before, but couldn't quite remember where. Then it hits me - that terrible sequel to ARTHUR where she played an adoption agent. So I look at her again and discover that perhaps she's not such a bad pick to play Annie Wilkes. She's sweet, yet sinister and the physical proportions appear to be just right. So there you have it.
If you've never read the book, the story follows famed writer Paul Sheldon, a writer of a successful series of novels featuring a character named Misery Chastain. Wanting to focus on more serious novels, he writes a manuscript for a new unrelated novel. When finished, he departs from Silver Creek, Colorado to head to his home in New York City, but is unexpectedly caught in a raging blizzard. His Mustang goes off the road, and he's rendered unconscious and smashed up. Paul is rescued by Annie Wilkes who brings him to her remote home in the Colorado mountains. Regaining consciousness, he finds himself bedridden, with both his legs broken as well as a dislocated shoulder. As a reward for saving him, Paul gives Annie permission to read his new manuscript which she'd saved from the wreckage and it's here, perhaps, that the trouble begins. Annie reads it, but confesses she dislikes the use of the excessive profanity. Later, when she reads the latest Misery book and discovers that the character of Misery Chastain has been killed off, she flies into a rage and the nature of her true obsessive character is revealed. Paul, at this point, is no longer a recovering patient of Annie's, but rather her prisoner, with no hope of escaping her will. First he's forced to burn his untitled serious novel in order to "rid the world of this filth" and then is coerced into writing a brand new Misery novel in order to bring the character back to life and satisfy the irrational whims of Annie's sick mind. During this time, whenever Paul manages to get out of his room, he discovers the hidden truth of Annie's past in which she was arrested and accused of murdering newborn babies back when she was, indeed, a registered nurse.
Now despite Annie's rather twisted frame of mind, there is something rather irresistibly fun about her nature. She's sick, but rather cute and lovable, too - kind of like getting a kick out of a giant, fat Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear that has a few tears in it. This feeling last for a while, at least until the infamous hobbling sequence is which Annie smashes both of Paul's ankles as punishment for escaping his room. I swear to you, I can't keep my eyes open during this scene. The thought of that sledgehammer making contact with Paul's feet is far worse than watching a character like Jason Voorhees hacking up a bunch of young virgins! By now, Annie Wilkes is nothing more than what Paul calls her by the end of the film, a "sick, twisted fuck!" By the time Paul's new and forced Misery novel is completed, he takes sweet revenge on Annie by doing to it exactly what she forced him to do to his serious work - he burns the book right in front of her! Annie, who now seems to sport the mind of a deluded child, attempts to save the burning manuscript as if it were Misery Chastain herself, and this is when we get to enjoy watching Paul Sheldon defeat and kill his captor. Fame, in this case, has, indeed, been a real crutch!
Kathy Bates may be forever known as Annie Wilkes, and it certainly justifiable because she truly nails the part and even earned an Oscar award as Best Actress of 1990 for it. MISERY is a frightening, grabbing film with standout performances by all who occupy it and even manages to employ some of that Rob Reiner wit we'd become accustom to by that point. It's just too bad I haven't particularly cared for any of his films since THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995). Perhaps another Stephen King adaptation is the answer!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Annie Wilkes: "It's the swearing, Paul. There, I said it. It has no nobility."
Paul Sheldon: "These are slum kids. I was a slum kid. Everybody talks like that."
Annie Wilkes: "THEY DO NOT! What do you think I say at the feedstore? "Oh, now Wally, give me a bag of that F-in' pig feed, and a pound of that bitchly cow corn"? At the bank do I say, "Oh, Mrs. Malenger, here's one big-bastard of a check, now give me some of your Christ-ing money!"