Four Movies Based on Self-Help Books That Totally Undermine Their Advice
Hollywood, of course, is a garbage disposal where originality goes to die, so no rock is too small to overturn when it comes to sources of new ideas. It’s often books, but even the well of fictional narratives eventually dried up, putting them in a real “Birthday Dad” situation.
Okay, they haven’t yet turned to the greeting-card rack, but they have dallied in the self-help section, which is a tricky proposition because good advice doesn’t make good movies. Seriously, how boring would a movie about functional people making healthy decisions be?
That’s why movies based on self-help books inevitably have to go against their own advice. Like…
Hang onto your hat because you’re about to have your mind blown: Mean Girls is not only based on a book, it’s based on a parenting book. Tina Fey adapted the screenplay after reading Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and the New Realities of Girl World by Rosalind Wiseman. All the 2000s girls will agree it does a great job at being a screenplay, but not so much as an adaptation, because the book is all about why girls like Regina George behave the way they do, but we never see that on-screen. The closest thing she has to a problem that might explain her desperate desire for control is a hilariously permissive mom, and people generally don’t become obsessed with control because they have too much of it.
That’s another thing: All the parents in the movie are either punchlines or absent entirely, despite it being based on a parenting book. We never see them attempting to help their daughters navigate the treacherous terrain of Girl World, unless you count the Scrubs janitor comically trying and failing to look stern. These are parental types that are described in the book, but maybe a single legally related adult could have stepped in at some point to avoid giving the message that girls are on their own. In a movie based on a parenting book.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting
Speaking of parenting books, we’ve reached the end of the “good movies” section. It’s all Garry Marshall-esque ensembles from here on out, starting with What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It’s the CrossFit of baby books: Some people love it; some people think it ruins lives and gives off weird cult vibes. It’s essentially an encyclopedia of everything that can go wrong in a pregnancy and rigorous instructions for avoiding the minute possibility that your uterus could turn inside out. The message is clear: The moment of conception is also the moment to start obsessing about everything, all the time, forever. You know, just like every child wants in a parent.
But a movie about someone doing everything right and therefore succeeding is a movie people will walk out on, so 2012’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting takes a decidedly different course. Three of the four storylines show how overplanning is nothing more than a double-dog-dare for fate, and the other one is about J. Lo adopting an Ethiopian baby, which is just a whole thing. Cameron Diaz and some guy debate endlessly about circumcision only to end up having a girl, Elizabeth Banks has a nightmare pregnancy and birth despite her maternal dedication, and her much younger stepmother-in-law breezes through the process without so much as a back pillow.
More like What to Never Expect When You’re Expecting, right?
Of course, the woman with the easy pregnancy ends up having shitty babies, but that’s just another win for the trickster god of gestation.
Think Like a Man
Think Like a Man functions as a two-hour infomercial for Steve Harvey’s dating book (we’ll give you a second to come to terms with those words) Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man as well as further proof that 2012 was a bleak year for romantic comedy. The movie follows four women who embody archetypes described by Harvey — “The Single Mom,” “The Girl Who Wants the Ring,” “The Woman Who Is Her Own Man” and “The 90-Day Rule Girl” — as they apply Harvey’s advice to various types of men (“The Mama’s Boy,” “The Non-Committer,” “The Dreamer” and “The Player,” respectively). Within the first 15 minutes, Kevin Hart is mocked for what is clearly a horrifically abusive relationship and Chris Brown shows up (again, in 2012 — do the math), so we know we’re not in for great relationship advice.
We also know it’s not great because it doesn’t work. Harvey advises women to wait 90 days to sleep with a man, for example, but “The 90-Day Rule Girl” breaks her rule and it ends up having no bearing on how “The Player” feels about her. “The Woman Who is Her Own Man,” meanwhile, sleeps with “The Dreamer” on the first date, so this advice apparently only applies if you’re pretty sure you’re dealing with a manipulative sociopath who you want to marry for some reason.
Speaking of which, “The Girl Who Wants the Ring” becomes borderline abusive herself, getting rid of everything her boyfriend loves and going behind his back, so technically, it works, but it’s not a recipe for a happy marriage. We see another woman entirely stand up to “The Mama’s Boy” earlier in the movie to no effect. It’s almost like there are no hard-and-fast rules for relationships, and it just kind of depends on the people involved. But that doesn’t get you on the bestseller list.
He’s Just Not That Into You
He’s Just Not That Into You is a dating advice book with the distinction of being adversely adapted not once but twice, first in an episode of Sex and the City where Miranda tries to live by its principles only to ruin a promising date by forcing him to admit he has diarrhea, then in the 2009 movie of the same name. The premise of the book is deceptively simple: Women screw up their romantic lives by refusing to accept that men always make their intentions known. If a man isn’t asking you out, leaving his wife, asking you to marry him, putting on that clown suit you like, etc., it’s because he doesn’t want to. Because — wait for it — he’s just not that into you.
It’s also a premise that the movie absolutely slaughters at every turn. Ben Affleck does end up marrying Jennifer Aniston after eight years of refusing to consider it. Jennifer Connelly leaves Bradley Cooper before he can leave her for Scarlett Johansson, which we’re counting as a technicality, and Scarlett Johansson has a man friend who is secretly harboring feelings for her because, it turns out, men are human beings who are sometimes scared and shy.
The movie makes you think it’s going to stick to its guns when Justin Long, the author stand-in, berates Ginnifer Goodwin, who tends to chase men who are somehow not interested in her, for mistaking his own behavior as interest when he’s been telling her all along that men are straightforward and she’s not the exception… and then it ends with her literally saying “I’m the exception” as they kiss and “Somewhere Only We Know” takes us to the credits.
We can only conclude that author Gred Behrendt has a humiliation kink, and we’d much rather read his book about that.