Review: The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece

The critics can’t find much to like.  “Underwhelming,” the Guardian sniffs. “Crying out for an editor.”

“Sags under a deluge of detail,” snarks the New York Times.

“Has the same flaw as him,” the UK Telegraph observes (ungrammatically), and scorns it as “a mite too insider-ish.”

I loved it. Maybe I’ve been reading too much true crime, too many dark novels, too many bad-guy-bad-girl stories. Maybe I’ve created too many villains myself. Maybe that’s why this sprawling, affectionate, exuberant novel about–you guessed it–the making of another major motion picture masterpiece pulled me in and kept me reading. Kept me reading because I like stories, and especially stories about stories and especially about the art and craft of storytelling. And also especially stories about movies.

But if I were looking for a villain, I’d be disappointed in this novel. I might have found him in OKB (the Big Star of the show) and his arrogant insistence on doing things his way. But OKB was artfully disposed of (spoiler alert) before shooting went seriously awry. No villain.

If I were looking for adulterous connivance, I might have been teased by the attraction between the valorous Ike and the beauteous Wren and the hint of their betrayal of Thea, Ike’s wife. But amazingly, no steamy off-set, out-of-bounds sex.

I did find plenty of conflict, but it was the conflict of creative people working against scheduling demons and weather and supply chains and COVID and equipment malfunction and misunderstandings and miscommunications. You know, the usual, inevitable stuff that intervenes between us and our best intentions.

And characters? Oh, yes, yes. Characters of all sorts and shapes and sizes. Generous, well-meaning people trying to do the Right Thing at the Right Time, trying to make sense of each other and the crazy wild world they live in. Characters with fascinating stories about how they got to be who they are and hope to be and what they’re doing with their gifts. Good people, honest, ordinary people who sometimes miss their marks or flub their lines or lose patience and throw something, but at heart are the kind of people we would like to be.

And settings crammed with insider detail about how movies are made and the bewildering cast of characters who make them and the circumstances that fortunately (or unfortunately) change how a movie gets made. And footnotes–yes, the novel even has footnotes!–which I love, because they remind me that Tom Hanks is writing the story I’m reading and knows things beyond the story that he feels compelled to share with me, his privileged reader.

So phooey on critics. This novel made me smile and believe, once again, that there’s something right with a world that can produce something like this book and someone like Tom Hanks, who has so often taken us into his own wild crazy world. And does so, once again, in this splendidly capacious novel.

Noteworthy. Still wondering if this is a book for  you? Watch Ari Melber interview Tom Hanks. It’s a conversation you won’t forget.

Your turn. If you’ve read the book, what do you think about it? Hanks says he doesn’t know of another novel about people making movies. Do you? Or maybe you have a favorite book about the film world. If so, please share!



49 comments on “Review: The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece

  1. Oh yes, same-same on Faulkner. You have to be in the mood to dive in and ready to re-read sections to proceed. But isn’t that the south, even today! I think we could use someone like Faulkner as a guide, or at least an interpreter. I certainly am left scratching my head trying to understand what the heck is going on thru most of the south lately. But perhaps even Falkner would be left scratching parts of his anatomy, too! 🙃

  2. Sandy, I have the same experience with Faulkner–it’s not just the content, it’s the form and the language. Perhaps especially the syntax/vocabulary, which is both a barrier and (once you’re back in) a complicated embrace.

  3. Looking forward to reading Hank’s book this winter when I will have a little more time to gnaw on it.
    Back in the day, and I am talking way back … like jumping in Bullwinkle’s ‘Way-Back Machine’, I spent a few months attempting to read some Ezra Pound. Though most of his work was unintelligible to me, after a while I was able to experience a mind shift that let me appreciate where he was coming from on at least a few pieces. It was worth it, if only for the few times that it happened. A little like being able to smell the air of your youth, again. So sweet and instantly memorable.

  4. I very much agree with you, Patricia. I would have appreciated stronger clues to the who/why of the “I” narrator. Whether he knows it or not, Hanks is depending on his reader having enough interest in HIS work to stay with him long enough to get hooked. If this were anybody else but Hanks, I might not have hung in there long enough to see what he was doing and decide it was worth staying in.

  5. Loved the book. At first, the format perplexed me, then I realized he was showing me how the first winkling germ of a script is born. By then, I was all in.

  6. That would be annoying for me, too. I’d like to hear his reason for doing it that way (I’m sure he has one.) How does he read the footnotes? Where they belong in the narrative? That’s another tricky thing when it comes to audiobooks.

  7. I’m listening to the book now. Tom Hanks reads most of it. It’s fascinating. How complex it all is, I had no idea.
    Though Hanks use ellipses a lot in some places. And he reads them, dot dot dot. I wish his editor had taken a stronger line about that. And that the director had convinced him to not read them out loud.

  8. I’m a Dick Francis fan but missed this one. Sounds good, Barb–thanks.

  9. Haven’t read Tom Hanks book and not sure I will tackle it,as I was unable to finish his collection of short stories. An excellent novel about making movies, however, that I have read several times over the years, is Wild Horses by Dick Francis. It has everything- movie making, intrigue, well drawn characters a little love ,death murder old mysteries and villains! Highly recommended!

  10. I agree, Nancy! Movies are an art form but also a technology–just think how they’ve changed in our lifetime. And how many hours we spend looking at them. A little awareness and learning is bound to increase our enjoyment.

  11. Hanks’ book changed the way I watch movies. Knowing the effort that goes in to the project makes me look at camera angles, appreciate the prep of the actors, and hundreds of other details. And now I sit through all the credits and actually understand the importance of every person.

  12. Sorry to have provided a nonfunctioning link. Not sure why cyberspace is letting me in? sigh You are probably right about what gets banned or not…. I thought any genuinely likeable male – not to mention successful, might be too much competition for Ron.

  13. I’ve run out of options on that site. 🙁 I don’t think the FL book-banning crew will be interested in this book. Not enough sex, no trans, no drag queens.

  14. Hmm … I was able to close the subscription window. Do hope the footnotes are included in the audio book. That would be a game changer for me. As to a book that requires some effort to enjoy, Bring’m on! Will be interesting to see what the FL school library board does with it. 🙃

  15. Smart author, to retrieve that earlier work (from the 1990s!) and recast it as one of a series. And interesting that the internet has given the backlist so much current life.

  16. Interesting that the experience has stayed in your mind. Those early-early films are fascinating.

  17. A Wilder Rose has been optioned for years, still in “development hell.” There’s current interest in the Cottage Tales for TV. Like all authors, I love to see the work widely shared–so yes. It would be fun to see it on the screen (although I might not like what it takes to get it there).

  18. I wonder if this book will become a movie. And what it would have to give up to make that possible.

  19. Lordy, yes, there are FOOTNOTES! And they’re fun–most of them toss-off comments that take us even farther from the storyline. But that’s the enjoyment of this novel, for me: the story is where the story goes, and Hanks just goes with it.

  20. I’m grateful for those YouTube videos–I can replay sections. And there are CAPTIONS. People on TV talk too fast (is that just me?).

  21. That’s a good description of it: a book to read when we’ve got plenty of time to relax into it and enjoy it.

  22. Have you seen “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”? It surfaces the same theme, in the role of a character who finds it a challenge to break through his cynicism and see the basic goodness in people.

  23. You’d probably have to wait for months to get that library copy! (And big thanks for being a Dahlias reader.)

  24. I saw that you had the book on your planned weekend reading, and thought “Cool! A book by Tom Hanks”, a witty, intelligent fellow”. Bought it, and devoured it. Enjoyed it thoroughly. Didn’t care if it didn’t have a secret romance or a disaster. That wasn’t what it was about. I love movies. So intrigued by bits and pieces of getting one made. [Similar to watching the TV series “The Offer.”]. I just wish I could see the movie that was supposedly made.

  25. I like to try reading the quiet part, what the critic doesn’t say out loud. With this book, what’s interesting to me is that the critics all seem to want the same thing. A few bad guys. And a lot less detail. I’m interested in that tsunami of detail–and imagining that as a translation in words of what’s on the screen.

  26. As Mary says below, it may take a few chapters to get used to the voice. But worth it.

  27. That’s what I liked about it, Nancy. Every character is a “little people” to start with–and they all become “big people” by book’s end. A reminder that everybody has an extraordinary story.

  28. I wanted to have it in pixels, Cammy, so I could mark it up and reread. But it’s one book that’s probably even better in audio. (Does he read the footnotes?)

  29. Just finished the audio book, narrated by Mr. Hanks himself! I Loved it! I felt like I was watching a movie. I was disappointed when it ended!

  30. I’m definitely going to be looking for this one. Sounds like a book that’s not at all like the few I’ve returned to the library so far this year after struggling to get past the first chapter! Thanks for this!

  31. Having two sons working in the film industry and are essential crew in getting a film made, they gave worked with a lot if famous actors. After listening toTom Hanks and the interview you mentioned , he nails it accurately. Having insider perspectives from sons on how grueling it is to get a movie to the screen, I hope they have the opportunity to with with Tom Hanks sone day. He does not forget the little people.

  32. When I was a n high school (1970) I read a really good book about D. W. Griffith and making early movies. Great read. I was a little bit of a geek and did a book report on it. None of my classmates had a clue about what I was talking about!

  33. I just finished it. It read like nothing I’ve seen before, and, at first, I was unsure about the style. But I emerged hooked, completely hooked. I cared about the characters. I liked them. I got to know them. I learned a great deal about an industry I patronize but knew little about. Since Mr. Hanks has introduced a unique style of storytelling, it will take critics time to adjust. It always does whether it’s art or music or books. And I loved, loved, loved his footnotes. What fun he must have had writing this, as much fun as I did staying up ‘til 3:00 am reading it.

  34. Maybe not quite what Hanks had in mind when he mentions a “novel about people making movies,” but Barbara Hambly’s “Bride of the Rat God” is exactly that. It’s set in the 1920s, full of great period detail about Hollywood and about making movies in the era of silent films. One of my all-time favorites. Hambly has recently rewritten it as the beginning of a new series, removing the fantasy elements and giving it a new title, “Scandal in Babylon,” but “Rat God” is still my first choice.

  35. Thanks for that mention, Kathy! I like Trigiani, and that’s an intriguing concept. I’ll take a look. I’ve also thought of Joseph Kanon’s Stardust, not about a particular movie or even about movie-making, but a thriller set in Hollywood, 1945, against the backdrop of the movie business.

  36. Thank you so much for the review. I’m going to read this now. One of my favorite books about the movie business is a novel by Adriana Trigiani called All the Stars in the Heavens. It’s based on the shooting of the 1935 movie The Call of the Wild with Loretta Young and Clark Gable. I reread this book at least once a year.

  37. Haven’t read the book yet but I did see the Ari Melber interview (on youtube, a day late, because we got fed up with cable ages ago) and what I think may bother the self-appointed intelligentsia is that Tom Hanks seems to have hung on to his humanity. Thanks for your review – I’m not big on showbiz books but this definitely sounds worthwhile!

  38. The critic’s job is to criticize, to find something, anything to denigrate…be it a movie, a book, a performance…pull it down, tear it apart or make fun of it. Never do they praise or say anything positive. Thus…I rarely take seriously anything the critics have to say about anything. I guess they are bitter and unsuccessful as writers or performers, so they feel the need to tear everything apart. Oh well…I like Tom Hanks, have enjoyed every performance I have seen of his movies. He seems to be a decent human being. I would likely enjoy this book as well, must put it on my library list ASAP. Thank you for your review, because yours is one I trust.

  39. Oh yes Susan I totally agree with you!! I am trying very hard to only get first time reads at local library-and only actually buy book if I really really love it (I have your entire output so far of “Darling Dahlia” books!)
    I saw this fun read at Costco and quickly decided I couldn’t wait to buy and read it. I think it is totally Tom Habks-upbeat, positive, non threatening and a great storyteller!
    Everything I want in a book and people I want in my life!

  40. Susan, you made me think more about the book than just the many details. No crime, fighting, or sex or leaving you with bad feelings, just the reason I don’t go to movies. I want something uplifting and reflection of the goodness in people. Thank you, Tom Hanks.

  41. The only book that comes to mind is an English children’s book from the 1950s by Noel Streatfield, who wrote a number of loosely connected books about children dancers, musicians, actors, etc.
    The English title is The Painted Garden, and the American Movie Shoes. It is set mostly in Hollywood, and the (unsympathetic) English protagonist gets a leading part through being in the right place with the right accent and the right scowl. Streatfield obviously did her research, and it seems to be a fairly accurate account of children in the industry at the time.
    There’s also a nice little dig at contemporary racial attitudes; the dialect-speaking maid tells the children that she never got to go to school, but now her family, “they goes to college”.

Comments are closed.