Where To Start With… Nick Hornby
Out on DVD & Blu-Ray next week, A Long Way Down is the latest film to be based on a novel by Nick Hornby. Directed by Pascal Chaumeil, the film stars Aaron Paul, Toni Colette, Pierce Brosnan and Imogen Poots as four people who meet under bizarre circumstances when they all head up the roof of a London tower block named Topper's House - an unfortunate moniker given its reputation as a suicide hotspot - with the intention of taking their own lives.
They all have their own reasons for wanting to end it all; Brosnan plays a TV celebrity whose career is on the slide, while Colette plays the single mother of a disabled child who feels unable to cope any longer. Then there's JJ, played by Aaron Paul, a failed musician who is delivering pizzas to earn a crust (sorry), while Poots plays the part of Jess, a girl with family problems that turn out to be a little more complicated than it first appears.
Despite the rather depressing set-up, the film is, as you would expect from a Nick Hornby story, actually quite heart-warming. There's something quite Richard Curtis-eqsue about Chaumeil's direction for the film and it suits the film beautifully. Sometimes you'll laugh, sometimes you'll cry, but it's another of Nick Hornby's ideas that finds humour in even the most difficult of situations.
This is not the first time Hornby's novels have been adapted for the big screen – in fact, there's hardly anything he's written that hasn't been – so, for those who maybe didn't realise what the others were, we've picked four of the best, plus another to look out for...
A Long Way Down - Official Trailer
Now, we know there is more than one version of this, but we’ve gone for the one we feel is truer to Hornby’s book, therefore we’re talking about David Evans’ 1997 film starring Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell. In this semi-autobiographical story, Firth plays Paul Ashworth, an English teacher whose first and only real love is Arsenal football club. Then he meets Sarah (Ruth Gemmell) and their lives become entwined in a romantic rollercoaster that parallels Arsenal's season in the Premier League, with all the highs and lows that come with it.
As a romantic comedy aimed very much at a male audience, Fever Pitch is a rare thing, but Hornby's nuanced, human-scale storytelling makes it one that even the most hardened football fan can enjoy.
Some critics were initially unhappy that the action for Stephen Frears' adaptation of Hornby's second novel had been transplanted from London to Chicago, but it's a gamble that pays off. John Cusack stars as Rob Gordon, the obsessive owner of a record shop called Championship Vinyl who turns to his love of collecting records when his relationship with Laura (Iben Hjejle) breaks down. Rob deals with this the same way he deals with everything; by listing his break-ups in a Top 5.
Co-starring Jack Black as his brash co-worker and employee Barry alongside Todd Luiso as the highly knowledgable but awkward Dick, the film details the way in which Rob uses his hobby as an obsessive-compulsive outlet for dealing with his personal problems. It's a must-see for any vinyl collector, but it's also a very funny take on social awkwardness and obsessive collecting that any music lover will enjoy.
Although not based on one of his novels, Hornby co-wrote the screenplay for this film directed by Lone Scherfig featuring a cast list that includes Olivia Williams, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike and Dominic Cooper, as well as an impressive screen debut for Carey Mulligan.
Based on the memoirs of Hornby's co-writer Lynn Barber, An Education tells the story of a young girl growing up in 1960s London whose life is turned upside down when she begins to fall in love with a playboy who is twice her age.
Jenny (Mulligan) is approaching her 17th birthday and is a bright student with supportive parents who have made many sacrifices in order to ensure their daughter has the best possible chance of attending Oxford University, but then she meets David (Sarsgaard) and her parents' beautifully laid plans for her future begin to unravel.
A coming-of-age story with an unmistakable Hornby feel, this is a really enjoyable watch.
About a Boy
Starring Hugh Grant alongside a young Nicholas Hoult, Chris & Paul Weitz's film tells the story of Will Freeman (Grant), a bachelor living the easy life by sponging off the royalties generated by his father's one-hit-wonder songwriting career. Having penned a naff Christmas novelty single that gets wheeled out onto the airwaves every time the festive season comes around, Will has become accustomed to the playboy lifestyle, but it's left him cynical and highly immature. Then he meets Marcus (Hoult), a young, socially awkward boy in his early teens whose life revolves around taking care of his mother Fiona (Toni Collette), who suffers from depression and is prone to self-harm and suicide attempts.
When Marcus keeps showing up at Will's house, the pair begin to bond and Will discovers that he can learn a lot about being a man from this young, impressionable boy.
Grant turns in his usual brand of awkward/charming performance as Will, but he's actually extremely well cast in this role and the film has all the humanising charm and triumph against adversity that you'd expect from a Hornby story.
Set to hit the big screen in December this year, Wild is another Hornby tale, this time featuring Reese Witherspoon in the starring role of Cheryl Strayed. When Cheryl's life undergoes a catastrophic series of events she decides to embark on a 1,100 mile solo trek across the wild heartlands of America as a way of dealing with the pain.
Also starring Gaby Hoffman, Michael Huisman and Laura Dern, Jean-Marc Valee's film is definitely one to look out for when the winter starts to draw in later this year.