Why do writers make for such great characters in films? Because they tend to see the world differently, and spending a few hours with them helps us escape our everyday lives and immerse ourselves in a more exciting world. Characters who are writers can be optimistic creatives filled with ideas, but they can also be tortured individuals, whose creativity is both a blessing and a burden. But watching these perceptive, free-spirited individuals go through challenges and struggles is a rewarding experience. We made a list of 5 popular film characters who are writers, from beloved fictional heroines to protagonists of more recent releases.
1. Jo March
Little Women (2019), Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig’s retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel is just one of many adaptations of a book that accompanied many generations of women as they were growing up. Just like the book, the film is set in Massachusetts in the 1860s, and follows the March sisters – Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlon), Meg (Emma Watson), and Amy (Florence Pugh) – as they experience the joys and pains of growing up in post-Civil War USA. What Gerwig’s adaptation does differently than its predecessors is giving us a film that unfolds in two narratives, where time stands still as we watch our four heroines at key moments of their lives that all blend into one, in what is ultimately a movie about sisterhood and family.
At the center of it all is Jo, played masterfully by Saoirse Ronan, and, just like in the novel, she’s an aspiring writer trying to make a name for herself in a male-dominated society. Many will be drawn to the film by the love story at its core, even more so since the chemistry between Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet (who plays Jo’s love interest, Laurie) is incredible, but there’s so much more in this film.
Through Jo’s character, Gerwig resists the idea that love is all women are fit for, and gives us a beautiful portrayal of a resourceful young woman who never fails to feel authentic, and who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo. Yet, at the same time, she never fails to feel authentic, due to her exchanges with her sisters and perhaps a loneliness she can’t help but feel. Jo is such a fascinating character that countless of essays have been written about her, and if you’re in that situation, it might help to find websites that do assignments for you. And if you’re a Gerwig fan looking to rediscover her filmography after the huge success that Barbie was, Little Women is the perfect place to start.
2. Joe Gillis
Sunset Blvd. (1950), Billy Wilder
Let’s take a trip to the 1950s with one of the most beloved movies from comedic icon Billy Wilder, which has the added bonus of being about cinema itself. Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a hack writer who is trying to make it in Hollywood but hasn’t been having much luck. One day, he meets a silent film star named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), who is having some problems of her own: with the advent of the “talkies,” the world completely stopped caring about her. And so, our two heroes team up, as Norma persuades Joe to write a screenplay for her comeback.
Sunset Blvd. is a fantastic, on-point examination of the very nature of fame, and how cruel the industry can be when it comes to being in the spotlight. Despite having been made in the 1950s, it’s still more relevant than ever, with the added bonus of Billy Wilder’s signature style. Not only do you get a very entertaining writer, but you’ll also find a captivating portrayal of a master manipulator in Norma Desmond, who still manages to remain likable despite it all because of her humanity. Not to be missed.
3. Paul Sheldon
Misery (1990), Rob Reiner
Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a best-selling author of romance novels who is determined to start focusing on more serious work. But his plan is interrupted when a seemingly helpful fan named Annie (Kathy Bates) rescues him after a car accident. He soon discovers she is not as harmless as he thought she was when she traps him in her home, as she wants him to rewrite the ending of his popular book series.
Based on Stephen King’s beloved novel and masterfully brought to the screen by Stand By Me director Rob Reiner, Misery combines the best the two creatives have to offer with a film that excels both in character work and genuine scares. The film is absolutely terrifying, and the tension keeps rising till the very end, taking you on an eerie, distressing journey that will have your eyes glued to the screen. James Caan and Kathy Bates are superb in a film that’s a must-watch for fans of horror movies. And if you’re in the mood for another disquieting film about a writer after the credits roll, why not try the Stephen King-inspired Secret Window?
You Hurt My Feelings (2023), Nicole Holofcener
What if you were a novelist, and you had poured your heart and soul into a book only to find out that the person who knows you best thinks it isn’t very good? This is what happens to Beth (Julia Louis-Drefus), whose seemingly perfect marriage is put into a test when she overhears her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies) giving his brutally honest opinion about her latest book – an opinion that clashes with the lie he had told her to her face.. It’s a seemingly simple premise, but director Nicole Holofcener explores it to its full potential, in a movie that’s witty, entertaining, and thought-provoking, despite a few flaws. Needles to say, Julia Louis-Drefus is superb.
American Fiction (2023), Cord Jefferson
We left a very special writer for last! Ever since the film’s premiere at TIFF earlier this year, everyone’s been talking about Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, played to perfection by Jeffrey Wright, who may very well win an award for his role. “Monk” is also the most frustrated writer in this list, as he just wants to write books in a world that can’t help but reduce everyone to stereotypes. When his publisher rejects his latest novel and asks him to write a “Black book,” Monk can’t take it anymore: he writes said book under a pseudonym, as a joke, filling it with every Black stereotype he can think of. Needless to say, everyone loves it.
When it comes to satires, American Fiction is one of the best comedies of the decade. In what is astonishingly his debut, director Cord Jefferson manages to perfectly capture our current culture in a movie that also happens to be absolutely hilarious, filled with great comedic timing and unexpected twists. And if you think you know what happens at the end, think again: this film has many surprises in store for you.
There are some fantastic films out there that feature characters who are writers, and they belong to a variety of genres. From Billy Wilder’s all-time classic Sunset Blvd. to horror gem Misery, sensitive adaptation Little Women, marriage drama You Hurt My Feeling and recent phenomenon American Fiction, all the movies listed above feature popular writers you’ll absolutely love. Happy watching!