All of this is lovely. But Hattie's Diner, the spiritual center of the novel, has almost disappeared from the film, reduced to part of the scenery, and the loss almost ruined the film for me. I have the sense that Russo himself felt that: when he came to write his own adaptation of Empire Falls for Fred Schepisi's 2005 HBO film, he kept the diner front and center. The main protagonist is the manager of the Empire Grill (which concedes to the new expectations to the extent of serving ethnic food on weekends), so it would be hard to avoid the place. But the added length of an HBO film (almost 200 minutes) allows Russo and Schepisi to make a movie around all the wonderful and often wacky conversation that happens in the diner over weak coffee and doughnuts. If you've seen the movie and if you haven't, go rent it! you'll likely remember its surprising yet tragically inevitable ending. But for me the film, like the novel, is most memorable for the way it preserved the disappearing American small-town diner, where I had the best, though possibly unhealthiest, breakfasts of my life.
Richard Russo will be at the Ann Arbor Book Festival on Saturday, May 13, to discuss how fiction gets transformed into film.
[Review published May 2006]