Pick a Biopic

Over the weekend, I read a news blurb about a planned biopic on the life of Joe Paterno. The rumored star of the rumored biopic was Al Pacino.

I don’t have much of a dog in this film fight. Even before the Jerry Sandusky scandal, I could not have been persuaded to willingly watch a movie about JoePa. Why? Three reasons.

First, I’m not a football fan, so a movie about a legendary coach seems like a yawn to me. From what I understand, Paterno had the same job, in the same town, for a zillion years. Sure, he won a lot of games, so he probably gave a lot of inspirational speeches and got carried around on a lot of shoulders, but where’s the drama? Where’s the challenge when you win and win and win?

Consider these two sports movies. The obstacles, and why we care, are clear:

~ In Rudy, Rudy is a small guy whose goal in  life is to play for the Notre Dame football team. He makes the team, but he’s never allowed to play. It’s impossible not to watch this movie without yelling at the coach: “Come on! Let Rudy play!” Of course we pull for the little dude with a lot of heart to achieve his dream. It’s Emotional Investment 101.

~ In Brian’s Song, Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers are best friends and rivals, so their competition for the same position on the same team provides tension…and that’s before Brian got sick and the movie became a sob fest. You do not have a soul if you didn’t cry for both of the main characters, because they were both likeable, with sincere and shared pain.

Second, even though I’m not a football fan, I watched a biopic about Vince Lombardi. So much of it was the airing of family secrets (and/or dirty laundry) I was sorry I turned it on.  And Lombardi’s family didn’t include any scandals a la the Penn State one.

Third, I think it is far too soon to laud, or condemn, or both, Joe Paterno. It’s insensitive to a great number of people. And…someone will have to play Sandusky, don’t you think? Ick. Is there going to be a line around the block for that role?

So that’s my case to put the kibosh on a biopic about Joe Paterno, at least for now. I’m sure many folks will disagree, and that’s okay. Film it, don’t film it, I won’t be buying a ticket anyway.

But this leads me to wonder…who would be a good subject for a biopic? In order to reach biopic status, one must achieve something noteworthy or admirable. I will grant that Joe Paterno did do this, by coaching all those winning games, but in terms of drama, how do you turn that into an interesting, watchable story for a large audience (aka, non-football fans)?

Who, in your opinion, has led a compelling enough life to be worthy of a compelling biopic?

Here are my nominations, from the famous to the more obscure:

1. Hilary Clinton. Do I need to elaborate?

2. Daphne du Maurier. The author’s parents were actors, her grandfather was a writer and cartoonist, and her cousins were the little boys who inspired J. M. Barrie to write Peter Pan.  Her first husband was a professional soldier named “Boy”; she had a long and prolific career that included plagiarism accusations around Rebecca; and she may or may not have been bisexual. Forget biopic, du Maurier deserves a mini-series.

3. Eliza Scidmore. Who? Every spring, visitors flock to Washington D.C. to enjoy the gorgeous display of blooming cherry blossom trees. You can thank Eliza Scidmore for that. A writer, naturalist, and photographer, Scidmore was the first female board member of the National Geographic Society. She traveled all over the world, and to Japan many times. It was Eliza Scidmore who took the idea of planting Japanese cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin to First Lady Helen Taft. Scidmore championed a cause that now gives much pleasure to many people, and will continue to do so for a long time. In my mind, her story is worth a movie.

Those are my nominations. I would like to hear yours. Although mine are all women, yours can be a man. Just, maybe, not a coach?

16 thoughts on “Pick a Biopic

  1. I would say Hillary Clinton as well…and I think I mentioned Jodie Foster as a possible casting choice. Perhaps one of the Fanning sisters for the younger Hillary Rodham.

    Mary Shelley perhaps? (If one has been done, I’ve not heard of it)

    Elizabeth Blackwell. First woman in the US to graduate from medical school. She challenged society at the time and also went on to found at least one clinic in NYC.

    I think we’re getting a new movie on Marilyn…and some have been done already. Perhaps one of the problems of technology is that we seem to get some type of bio-pic almost immediately after a noted person dies. Or while they’re still alive.

    I’ll add Elizabeth Edwards to the list, not because of the last year of her life, but because I watched her campaign with her husband during the Kerry/Edwards run for the White House and thought that she was way more than just the window dressing you sometimes see (unjustly or not) on the campaign trail. I admired her courage during her two battles with cancer as well, especially since they occurred during what would have otherwise been a period of killer stress in any case. Don’t know who I’d cast.


    1. Interesting choices, Maryann–and I should probably devote this post to you, as it was your commentary on FB yesterday that made my post there morph into this longer one.

      Elizabeth Blackwell–yes, excellent idea, and I love when the spotlight shines on someone whose name is not as easily recognizable.
      Marilyn Monroe–Oh please not again, is my reaction! What else it there to say?
      Elizabeth Edwards–I can’t picture an actress for that one, either. Hm.


  2. I’m changing the subject a little. I got sidetracked when I started thinking about casting the role of Jerry Sandusky. Can I just say the actor who popped into my head right away? Nicholas Cage.

    And ps. I would watch a biopic of Hillary. And I would watch just about any biopic in which Meryl Streep played the lead. Win-win.

    The woman who was the CIA operative who chased down Bin Laden. I would see that biopic. Mark Owen described her as “feisty”—-the only word of his CBS interview that made me scream. Just saying.


  3. Nancy, I didn’t even know there was a female (CIA or otherwise) involved in the operation. Glad she was that persistant, although “feisty” IS a bit grating. I only saw part of the interview last night. So, I would indeed watch a biopic of her as long as it didn’t compromise her existance. Nicholas Cage? Gives me a queasy feeling so I’d bet your casting could be on the money. Ramona, a friend and I talked about this subject over pancakes (for lunch)and had a great time with it. I just wish I could say we came up with more ideas. Has anyone ever done one on Dame Agatha?


    1. Maryann, I think there have been several films about Dame Agatha. One that focused on her strange disappearance, called “Agatha” starring Vanessa Redgrave.

      I love that my post provided your lunch discussion. A friend sent me a note and she nominated William Shatner. And you know, after I stopped chuckling, I realized–I would definitely watch a biopic about William Shatner!


    1. Diana, thank you for posting, and congratulations on your Mayborn Fellowship. I did a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts earlier this year, and the concentrated time there was a great benefit to me.

      I wish you luck in your project on Eliza. I’m happy to see someone is taking on a biography; she deserves the recognition, and her life is certainly ripe for storytelling.


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