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  Misery Write Or Wrong?
Year: 1990
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall, Graham Jarvis, Jerry Potter, Archie Hahn, Rob Reiner, J.T. Walsh
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: He's done it - bestselling author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has finally written something he feels proud of. For years he has been making his fans swoon with romantic fiction about his character Misery Chastain, but never felt fulfilled by material he saw as beneath him and although he's grateful to the character, he has had no qualms about killing her off in his latest novel, which has just hit the bookstores. This latest, more realistic and gritty work is something he thinks will get him the literary respect he craves, and so after his customary cigarette and glass of champagne, he drives off to meet his agent...

Unfortunately for Paul, he was writing his masterpiece in the dead of winter at a remote location, so he really should have waited before he set off when there was a blizzard on the way. Thus when the snow arrives, he loses control of the vehicle and flies off the road, smashing up the car and leaving him close to death. There wasn't a moviegoer around in 1990 who didn't know what happened next, either because they had read the Stephen King novel it was based on, or because the publicity blitz was so prevalent that the saviour of Paul fast became a horror movie icon. She was Annie Wilkes, a lonely nurse who has taken great interest in Sheldon's career.

Annie was played by Kathy Bates in a role which won her a surprise Academy Award, not a surprise because she was bad in the part, quite the opposite in fact, but because horror films hardly ever won Oscars. Paving the way for Anthony Hopkins to win Best Actor for Silence of the Lambs the following year, Bates did not fall back on lazy psycho woman from hell clichés, and screenwriter William Goldman did not write Annie like that either. Building on the groundwork from King's original, one of his best efforts, Annie was by turns pathetic, amusing and downright cruel as she rescued Paul and took him home with her to tend to his wounds, thanks to her medical experience.

Of course, she has ulterior motives, claiming to be Sheldon's "number one fan" and barely able to conceal her delight at being able to look after her idol. Sheldon is too woozy to protest, but strong hints Annie is not quite the full shilling emerge when she admits she knew where he was staying and would stand outside his window, fondly imagining all the things he was writing. But she thought he was penning another Misery novel, and when she reads the manuscript he had with him she's not keen on this change of direction. And definitely none too pleased when she reads the latest Misery paperback to discover the heroine has been killed off. Not happy, she burns the new manuscript and demands Paul bring her favourite back to life.

Because if he doesn't, she can make him very uncomfortable. King's musings over the relationships between the writers of popular fiction and their followers were translated to director Rob Reiner's film to a point, but Goldman understandably had to pare away quite a bit of what was going on in Sheldon's fevered brain, although for much of it this was still two people in a room talking. All credit to Caan and Bates that they were able to carry this and make it as tense as it was, so if it was not as violent as the source (Bates was disappointed her big scene murdering someone with a lawnmower didn't make the cut) it filtered the symbiotic but questionably healthy links between artist and consumer through more conventional Hollywood trappings without lapsing into "hate your public" caricature. Yes, the book was richer, but for what it was Misery the film captured its black humour and its essential worries about who exploits whom in the entertainment world in an economical setting, and still made the audience wince where it counted. Music by Marc Shaiman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Rob Reiner  (1947 - )

Mainstream American actor, producer and director, son of Carl Reiner. After starring in the long-running sitcom All in the Family, Reiner turned to directing with This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, romantic blockbuster When Harry Met Sally, Misery and A Few Good Men. But when the dire North flopped, the films made less of a mark, like The American President or The Story of Us. He still acts in small roles.

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