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Reviewed by: John Ulmer

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Misery - 4/5 Stars

Director: Rob Reiner
Written by: William Goldman
Starring: James Caan, Kathy Bates and Lauren Baccal
MPAA Classification: R (brief violence, brief language, some tense/scary moments--mostly PG-13 material except for a few gruesome bits)
Year: 1990

I particularly enjoy one scene in "Misery," in which the crazed fan of a successful author switches from kind, gentle woman to crazy lunatic after she reads his latest novel in his line of Misery books, about an inspirational woman from the 1800s. The fan finds out he has killed her favorite fictional character off. "You dirty birdy!" she yells. Right here lies the strength in "Misery": its ability to take a good novel and turn it into a great film, by deep characters with waves of emotions and excellent lines of dialogue.

Kathy Bates is the crazed fan of James Caan's fluent writer, Paul Sheldon, who has finally ended his Misery series. In the beginning, we see him telling Lauren Bacall that Misery has ruined his life. He has been type-cast, not able to write anything but Misery novels. So he has killed her off in his latest book, and set to work on a new novel, "Untitled" (which, in the novel Misery--the REAL novel--is named "Fast Cars").

Paul retreats to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, writes his new novel with a sense of joy, and checks out of the cabin he is staying in. On the way home to the big city, unproduced novel in hand, he crashes off the edge of a ravine and flips his car. This is credited to both the winter storm and his drunkness from a bottle of Dom Periogne.

He awakens days later to find himself in the care of Annie Wilkes (Bates). Everything is nice and dandy at first. Annie is a nice enough person. She tells him the roads are closed and the telephone lines are down, but she will take him to town when they clear up. She says she has called Paul's agent and has told his agent where he is.

But soon Paul realizes he is trapped in the house with a madwoman. She is nice one second, a lunatic the next. And the best thing about this is how well Kathy Bates carries the character.

I read the novel "Misery" by Stephen King. It is the only book of his I have read that I have enjoyed. (I hate his other work.) And something tells me that King thought of this idea of a writer trapped with a crazy fan because he himself is an author, most likely adorned with letters signed by mad fans every day. But would his fans be crazy enough to kidnap King, abuse him when he's bad, and make him suffer endlessly? The fan, thinking, in the fan's deranged mind, that they are serving God?

So King wrote about this idea, and Rob Reiner turned it into a film a coupl'a years later. I personally enjoy the film a bit more than the novel.

In the book, I imagined Kathy Bates the whole time as Annie Wilkes. Only I didn't imagine Kathy Bates herself, but rather the woman Kathy Bates plays. You see, Kathy Bates doesn't play Kathy Bates here. Kathy Bates plays Annie Wilkes. She steals the show. She completely evelops her character. She easily switches her moods as if there is an on and off switch.

I cannot imagine anyone for the role of Annie other than Kathy Bates herself.

"Misery" is at times humorous, at times amusing, at times scary, and at times truly appalling; but it is always an excellent thriller. Reiner spotted the potential in the book in 1989, and he immediately went to work on the film for a 1990 release. In fact, I can imagine Rob Reiner scrolling through King's novel, fascinated by every page, wanting to turn it into a blockbuster film with big stars and big thrills.

And then I can imagine Rob Reiner at the premiere of "Misery." I can see the credits rolling. And I can see him smiling.

John Ulmer, April 25, 2003

copyright (c) 2003 John Ulmer, used with permission

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