There’s nothing new under the sun — but somehow, these awesome properties have never been adapted for screens big or small. Psst, Hollywood: Let’s change that.
Weetzie Bat is a short novel by Francesca Lia Block that reads like a candied love song for young, artistic misfits. If you’ve never heard of it, think Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Catcher in the Rye meets Sixteen Candles. The first in the Dangerous Angels series, it’s the kind of book that doesn’t quite fit amongst the stacks of action-adventure plots, prim teenage sleuths, and Blume-ian freckled kids in the YA world – much like the protagonist, Weetzie, doesn’t quite fit in the superficial, plastic world of her high school. Weetzie and her gay best friend Dirk, who comes out to her in the novel, look for their soul mates (whom they call their “ducks”) and ways to have unconventional fun in an 80’s-set Los Angeles wonderland (like grabbing burritos at Oki Dog and cruising around in a ‘55 red Pontiac dressed in 1950s garb).
I first discovered this book as a junior in college and while I wished that it had fallen into my hands as a teenager, as an older reader I think I appreciated the world Block created even more. After all, the world of Weetzie Bat is quite an adult one. Though the plot is framed by a magical premise, (Weetzie is granted three wishes by a genie) it introduces real world, grown-up issues that weren’t likely to be stocked in your local library YA section – like the AIDS epidemic, having children out of wedlock, substance abuse, and families without moms and dads. Young Weetzie even had her own love rhombus, with her boyfriend My Secret Agent Lover Man (yes that’s his actual name in the novel), her best friend Dirk, and his boyfriend Duck, producing a child named Cherokee. The CW, HBO, and Soapnet have got nothing on this kind of drama! I loved that Block doesn’t treat her young readers as if they were shrouded in a PG story quilt.
What makes this book perfect for a big screen adaptation is the fantastical, ambiguous ’80s-to-early ’90s, old-Hollywood-obsessed Los Angeles universe that Block sculpts with words. Block already infuses the setting with such verdant detail that I can only imagine it would look and feel even better on a big screen – kind of the cinematic equivalent of pulling a reverse Wes Anderson.
I’d also love to see a representation of L.A. that isn’t marauded by Bravo reality stars and greasy realtors and paparazzi. In the first few pages, Weetzie bemoans her dullard classmates for not appreciating the magic and cultural gems of LA: “They didn’t care that Marilyn’s prints were practically in their backyard at Graumann’s … that there was a fountain that turned tropical soda-pop colors, and a canyon where Jim Morrison and Houdini used to live …” Weetzie is obsessed with Jayne Mansfield, wears flouncy fifties taffeta frocks, (and sometimes feathery headdresses), writes poetry, and skateboards. This is the kind of story that makes you feel less alone when you are young and have interests in non-mainstream things that can’t be purchased at a suburban mall or they’re not found atop the Billboard Hot 100, or shared over sloppy joes in the cafeteria. Because it’s so short (only 128 pages) and Block writes in a feverish way that makes time and space change faster than a billboard on La Brea, a feature length film would flesh out the day-to-day unconventional family life that Weetzie and Dirk have created.
My wildest dreams production team? Maybe Sofia Coppola who tackled the excesses of Hollywood with this year’s Bling Ring, or Michel Gondry who loves to play with fantastical sets and time sequence, or even Anderson himself whose attention to fine-tuning and nose-to-tail storytelling would certainly do Weetzie Bat justice. For Weetzie, I think a Fanning would be great, but I’d go even older, with either Emma Stone or Carey Mulligan. As for the screenplay, apparently that is already taken care of, as Block wrote one and held a live-reading in 2010.
C’mon Hollywood! Your next it girl, Weetzie, is right here – and it won’t cost you a thing in special effects and wardrobe, because she’s not undead, a vampire, a superhero, nor an athletic teen in a post-apocalyptic world. She’s just herself, and that’s okay.