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!