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Exclusive: Lisa Cholodenko Confirms She’ll Direct ‘The Abstinence Teacher’ & Heads Into The ‘Wild’ With Reese Witherspoon

Exclusive: Lisa Cholodenko Confirms She'll Direct 'The Abstinence Teacher' & Heads Into The 'Wild' With Reese Witherspoon

Director Lisa Cholodenko recently sat down with The Playlist moments before her panel with fellow alum Shari Springer Berman and Nicole Holofcener at the Columbia University Film Festival this week, to debate the glass ceiling and how it affects making their films — during the course of which, Cholodenko let slip a couple of her yet-to-be announced projects among her other updates.

First up, the director and co-writer of “The Kids Are All Right” confirmed that she’s taking over the adaptation of Tom Perrotta‘s book “The Abstinence Teacher,” which at one point was to be directed by “Little Miss Sunshine” team Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, with Steve Carell and Sandra Bullock circling roles. Previous Perotta adaptations include “Little Children” and “Election” (which starred Reese Witherspoon).

Witherspoon is also slated to produce and star in one of Cholodenko’s other new projects, an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed‘s memoir of her 1,100-mile solo hike in the wake of personal tragedy, “Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”

“The author sent it to Reese, going, ‘I can’t imagine who else would do this,'” Cholodenko said. “And then I sniffed around it, without realizing ‘Wild’ had already been given to her [to produce], and then I somehow got involved in it, and now I’m doing that.” Chodolenko will write and direct, while Strayed confirmed over email that she’s acting as a resource and a consultant as the script is developed, and that she will be an associate producer on the film as well.

While it remains unclear whether Carell would still be attached to “The Abstinence Teacher,” he is on board the more family-friendly of Cholodenko’s next films, the adaptation of Judith Viorst‘s classic kid’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” “He just kind of has a nutty schedule,” the director said, “so that’s what we’re trying to figure out, the when and where.” As well as the co-stars. “It’s at a studio, so it’s getting the right adult cast attached.”

In the meantime, Cholodenko is doing “a couple of things for HBO,” including writing a pilot for the TV version of “The Kids Are All Right,” which would act as both a prequel and a sequel for the Best Picture Nominee. Cholodenko hopes the concept will intrigue the original cast enough to reprise their roles. “You never know!” she said. “I’m just writing it as if they’re going to do it, because that makes it easier to write it.”

Granted, some of the cast might not be in the right age range anymore — something Josh Hutcherson recently pointed out. Plus he might be a tad busy with “The Hunger Games” franchise, just as Mark Ruffalo might have too much work on his plate. “Nobody’s offered me that yet,” he told me recently. “I think I’d probably let someone else do that one at this point. But who knows? When that happens, I might want that job. But right now, I’ve got a full plate — because of that. The sad irony is, I won’t be able to do the HBO ‘The Kids Are All Right’ because the movie ‘The Kids Are All Right’ has made me unavailable!”

In response, Cholodenko said, laughing, “They’re probably just anxious about reprising their roles! We’ll see if somebody comes out of the woodwork to do it with me. If not, a new incarnation of it will be fun, too.” While scripting the pilot, Cholodenko turned to her friend Holofcener for advice and feedback. “It’s just very different writing episodic television,” Cholodenko said, “and I was having a hard time.”

“You know, you can drive yourself crazy with these things,” Holofcener said. “I was a sounding board for her, I think.”

“She told me, ‘Take it easy, man,'” Cholodenko recalled. “And she helped me with a seminal scene. I really liked what she wrote, she had written something for HBO before, and I found her template really inspiring. So I said, ‘This is what I have,’ and she kind of helped me through it. She was really helpful.”

“I want a credit!” Holofcener added, laughing.

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Chris Roberts

All this talk about Witherspoon naturally flows into Strayed's work, which is inherently flawed, There isn't a script doctor in the world that can salvage it:

A junkie in the woods, dry heaving as she walks along makes for repetitive reading. The Cancer Devil who stalked Strayed is the same Demon that hunts those in an urban environment, both are the same, nothing original about them. Cancer kills, car accidents too and the ever methodical serial killer. Cause and effect leads to the casket. No death is special or exclusive.

Strayed's Walden fueled journey fails as Walden's did: both were escaping, not embracing the truth of nature, it is merely a colorful backdrop serving a pseudo-epic purpose. And the boulders, creeks, the wide sky above have erased every trace of her passage, the hiker that never was. She is that little before the trees that swayed their disapproval, she was a trespasser.

Chris Roberts

Memoirs fail because the genre is a self-important ego trip. Nobody that lived is nearly enough intriguing to write out their life for public consumption. When you think memoir, think better and jot your musings in a diary. Lock it in a desk drawer and throw away the key and to be safe, throw the entire desk out the window.

A Baby Named Jesus

"F" seems very touchy by Witherspoon's career choices.


I happen to be acquainted with the author and I think you're reading too much into Cholodenko's comment when you say the author "pursued" Witherspoon. Strayed went through normal channels that any author goes through, via her film agent (who no doubt strongly advised her about who might want to option the book for film). You can read more about it here and other places:

A Baby Named Jesus

Alright, question: how the fuck is Reese Witherspoon going to play Cheryl Strayed in this movie when she was only 23-26 during the events depicted in the book? This is an example of people remembering what Reese Witherspoon USED TO BE rather than what SHE IS now. I'm guessing, due to her other committment, WILD won't even start production for two years? This will make Witherspoon, what? 38 to 39-years-old? A mother of three? You can't even say that they'll make the character older because that would defeat the whole purpose of the story which is about a woman who has a prolonged-type of adolencent crisis after the early death of her mother. You can see how a woman 23 to 26 would get dragged into such a situation, a woman of 39 would be ridiculous. It'll destroy the entire story. Egos are running amok here. I think Witherspoon is having some sort of female mid-life crisis. I think she`s finding it difficult to transition into adult roles appropriate for her age, while maintaining the same degree of fame and success she once had, and she`s beginning to freak out. When I first heard of this I thought the idea of Witherspoon starring ridiculous, but then I thought maybe she`ll use it as a directing vehicle for herself, which would have been interesting. Pursuing it as a starring vehicle is STUPID to the extreme. Who is advising this woman?

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