Fantasy Casting For Lisa Cholodenko's The Abstinence Teacher
Tom Perrotta's books have already inspired Alexander Payne's satirical comedy Election and Todd Field's heartbreakingly beautiful romance-in-suburbia tale Little Children. Next up on Hollywood's Perrotta production slate is an adaptation of his captivating and comical exploration of the ideological divide of modern America, The Abstinence Teacher, which focuses on the unlikely romance that blooms between a liberal-minded sex ed. teacher and a born-again Christian who find themselves at the center of a small town controversy.
Early on in the adaptation's development producers had lined up directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) to helm, and Steve Carell and Sandra Bullock were attached to star. However updates surfaced last month that revealed Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right) is now on board to direct, with no mention of who may star.
As much as I enjoyed Dayton and Faris' blend of melancholy and whimsy in Little Miss Sunshine, I think Cholodenko's more down-to-earth, emotional approach better suits Perrotta's novel. I'm also hoping her involvement will mean the production is back to square one when it comes to casting, as I worry Bullock plus Carell automatically equals a broad rom-com, which wouldn't work for me. So below is my own personal wishlist for whom I'd love to see portray the characters I've clung to. Feel free to share your picks in comments.
This is the role for which Bullock was intended, and type-wise it is appropriate for a plucky everywoman. But rather than the movie star version, I'd love to see Rudolph tackle this divorced mother of two, and health/sex ed. teacher whose curriculum is informed by her personal belief that “pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power.” Though she may be best known for broad comedy herself, Rudolph showed a remarkable ability to blend pathos and casual humor in the underrated Away We Go. Over the course of the book, Ruth displays a ragged charm and a defensive edge, that makes her gruff but lovable, and so I think Rudolph with her humane sensibilities and winsome screen presence would be the perfect pick for this prickly protagonist. Plus it'd be great to see her get another shot at being a leading lady, rather than being sidelined to more supporting roles.
Before he was a Christian soccer coach, passionately proselytizing to his team of 5th grade girls, Tim Mason was a wannabe rocker and devoted stoner who screwed up his first marriage, and now has a tenuous relationship with his adolescent daughter, Abby, and ex-wife, Allison. While early casting rumors had Steve Carell lined up for this part, I don't think his daffy sensibility would aptly ground Tim's grungy background. To really understand how far Tim has come—thanks to his faith and the guidance of Pastor Dennis—we need to have a sense of where he's come from. The Oscar-nominated Hawkes has a dark energy that's brought a startling depth to such seemingly cruel characters as Teardrop in Winter's Bone and the crafty cult leader Patrick in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Hawkes can give this backstory in a glance with his weary mug, then alternately can play a hopeful and warm man, as we've seen in Deadwood. He's my dream casting for this part, though I worry producers will push for a performer better known for comedy or someone more traditionally handsome. Still, Hawkes is utterly adored by the indie community of which Cholodenko is undoubtedly a part…
Pastor Dennis is a self-styled spiritual leader who founded the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth after he had a Bible-inspired freakout while working at Best Buy, in which he hurled printers and declared them abominations. Dennis feels he's found his calling in Christ, and so urges his flock to be their best selves. In the case of Tim Mason, this means pushing the heartbroken former fuck-up to start fresh with a new marriage to a chipper Christian woman. Now this is a role I could see Steve Carell in; however, it will be only a supporting role at best, so let's move on immediately to more likely casting possibilities shall we? Let's go for the man who tore up Broadway as self-styled preacher Elder Arnold Cunningham in The Book of Mormon. Gad's got a manic energy and eagerness that could bring real life to the overly enthusiastic Pastor, plus as he's yet to really get notice in a film role, this could be a great chance for him.
Tim Mason's hot, young wife is a Christian girl who is eager-to-please to the point that when her husband begins thwarting her sexual advances, she turns to the book Hot Christian Sex: The Godly Way to Spice Up Your Marriage for Bible-approved sex advice. As an obstacle to Tim and Ruth's romance, Carrie is a role that seems sure to be underwritten, so beyond someone beautiful, the film will likely require an ingénue who can bring depth to even the smallest part. For this I recommend Brittany Snow, who may be best remembered as the lead in American Dreams, but who deserves wild praise for her fearless and layered performance in the captivating indie The Vicious Kind. A lesser actress will make Carrie Mason a one-not joke with Christians as the punch line, but given to an actress as present and sharp as Snow, she's sure to the get the details to keep things complicated.
Tim's ex-wife is a woman who exudes a casual sex appeal, and is oblivious—or perhaps just uncaring—of the effect she still has on her former husband. I can easily imagine Carrie Ann Moss in this role as she exudes a dark and easy sexuality. Plus, no one has ever looked cooler bored than she. Physically, she'd be a sharp contrast to Snow and Rudolph, which works in the favor of each, and I can likewise imagine her having a heated history with Hawkes.
The bane of Ruth's existence is a 28-year-old Christian lobbyist who insists she's a virgin, and so should you be! She's outwardly chipper, but subtly sharp, and so seems a perfect part for rising star Alison Brie who has been delighting audiences with her roles in Community, The Five-Year Engagement, Mad Men and Scream 4. In each, Brie has shown to be a solid supporting player, and her ability to snap from smiling and warm to severe and sneering would serve her well in this role.
Best-known for his starring role on the Zooey Deschanel sitcom New Girl, Jake Johnson has been popping up in a variety of quirky comedies, from A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas to Paper Heart. However it was his role in the upcoming indie Safety Not Guaranteed that opened my eyes to Johnson's gift for being more than funny, but totally present on screen. Randall is Ruth's best friend, a gay man in a committed relationship who is her sounding board and shoulder to cry on for much of the proceedings. It'd be easy to pick an actor who has done the campy gay pal before, but I'd really like to see Johnson have more opportunities to display his intoxicating mix of cynical but sweet, and imagining him playing opposite Rudolph is already a dizzying delight.
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