23 Nov 2017

5 Great Films Based on Biographies and Memoirs

0 Comment

Nothing beats a great memoir. Memoirs and biographies share a unique perspective about our collective history, achievements, failures, and progress. Not only are these perspectives insightful, they have been the inspiration for a number of great adaptations. Here are a few memoirs and biographies re-imagined for the big screen.

Eat Pray Love (2010)

Memoir Subgenre: Get Lost/Get Inspired

I still remember back in 2007 when Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia exploded onto the literary scene. The book was so popular in fact, that it was quickly followed by a film adaptation starring Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman, Notting Hill) and co-written by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story).

The book and film both explored themes that resonated with the audience. They tackled questions about stability vs. adventure, comfort vs. excitement, satisfaction vs. happiness. 

Eat Pray Love was a box office success, earning $204.6 million with a $60 million budget. The BBC even reported in 2010 that Eat, Pray, Love inspired thousands of women to travel to Bali to recreate some of the film’s magic. You can read that article here. The soaring success also came with it’s share of hiccups. A lot of critics pointed out that the story portrayed a very unrealistic pursuit of happiness and an unsavory eroticization of Eastern culture. This memoir and the critics remind us to be inspired to pursue happiness while remembering the costs to achieve that happiness.

Intrigued? Here’s a fun clip from Eat Pray Love:

Wolf of Wall Street

Memoir Subgenre: He Did What?!

Not all memoirs and biographies are designed to inspire, and the Wolf of Wall Street is one such example. Reveling in decadence and a life of excess, Wolf of Wall Street answers the question “what would a man’s life look like if he made it to the top by any means possible? And had more money than he knew how to spend?” Apparently that man would party hard.

Based on the memoirs by Jason Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street reveals how he became ridiculously wealth only to be shut down by regulators years later.

Directed by Marin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) and written by Terence Winter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire), The Wolf of Wall Street is a delightful visual treat. From beginning to end, the film is pulsing with energy and life, but with a constant reminder that these lifestyles came at a cost.

Persepolis (2007)

Memoir Subgenre: In Times of Violent Politics

Persepolis is an absolute force of nature. Originally printed as a graphic novel, Persepolis is the story of a young Iranian girl growing up in the midst of the Iranian Revolution. Creator Marjane Satrapi’s illustrations have a distinct style now iconic with anyone familiar with her work.

The animated film, also written and directed by Satrapi, mirrored the style of the graphic novel. Despite it’s dark look, Satrapi’s film is vibrant, tense, and conveys the poetic moments of everyday life. The animated film went on to win the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It also received a staggering 55 award nominations and 28 wins from a number of international film festivals.

Here’s a fantastic interview with Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi.

Frida (2002)

Memoir Subgenre: The Life of an Artist

Hayden Herrera’s biography of the artist Frida explores the tumultuous life of the artist most famous for her symbolic self-portraits.

The film based on Hayden’s biography is a sort of visual poetry. Like an ode to Frida, the film plays with colours, camera angles, and eclectic sequences. Some of the film’s standout moments include beautiful sequences where the film merges motion picture with Frida’s classic paintings. The film pieces together biography with Frida’s artistry to create a mosaic of her life.

Hidden Figures (2016)

Memoir Sub-Genre: Racial Struggle and Female Persistence

A list of biographies would be incomplete without including the fantastic Hidden Figures. Receiving major Oscar and Golden Globe nods, this movie shook audiences worldwide and for many great reasons. The movie focused on the friendship and careers of three black women struggling against discrimination in their workplace and communities. And yet they still made major contributions to the success of the NASA space program.

Though the film took some liberties in the adaptation, it still stuck to the core of the biography. The film refocuses our attention on the contributions of black women in science, math, and technology. The film features fantastic leading performances by Taraji P. Henson (Person of Interest, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water, The Help), and Janelle Monáe (Moonlight). Sharp and witty, the film carries a scathing social critique still very much relevant today. Hidden Figures challengers viewers to think critically about who writes history, which stories we share, and which we forget.

Memoirs have always been an exciting genre and the world always needs more! What are your favourite biographical films? And what makes them great?