Perhaps Gus Van Sant is out of luck, because reports today indicate that Joe Wright, the director of Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina, is the leading contender to adapt mommy-porn phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey for the screen. The Hollywood Reporter's Tatiana Siegel and Borys Kit reported that Wright is the "front-runner" for the job, although sources say there is no deal in place, and Deadline threw some cold water on the rumors.
Now, it may seem like taking up the over-written sex scenes of E.L. James would be a literary downgrade for Wright after working with (the words of, at least) Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, and Ian McEwan. who is considered one of the greatest stylists of our time. Bookscan does not lie, however, and if you're in the book-to-screen business, nothing is bigger than Fifty Shades.
We had been intrigued by the idea of Van Sant, but Wright clearly knows how to film a sex scene. The Atonement library/green dress scene (link sort-of NSFW) is one of the modern classics when it comes to tawdry yet tasteful filmmaking. But, on a more cerebral level, what has been often seen a detriment to Wright's work, might be perfect for material like Fifty Shades. In his review of Atonement, The New York Times' A.O. Scott said the film " fails to be anything more than a decorous, heavily decorated and ultimately superficial reading of the book on which it is based." When it came to Anna Karenina, our Richard Lawson said the film is "alas an overcooked feast for the baser senses that leaves nothing for the mind, or the heart." Maybe what Wright just needs is lesser literary material to match more of his sensibilities.
Now, I have not read of all of Fifty Shades except for a few snippets mostly for amusement value. But it's clear from what I've seen and read from others that E.L. James' sex scenes which, while being the main selling point for a movie adaption, will also pose some problems adapting. They are overwrought, filled with bizarre metaphors and thesaurus-happy synonyms. They are meant to be passionate, but come off as laughable. Maybe Wright's interest in gorgeous visuals and love stories, would give the film its intended tone. Though one wonders if, being a Brit like James, Wright might keep in some of James' out-of-place Britishisms. The story is set in Washington.