Kirsten Dunst set to direct Dakota Fanning in an adaptation of ‘The Bell Jar’


Like many “misunderstood” teenage girls, I read The Bell Jar about a million times when I was a kid. I read Sylvia Plath’s poetry religiously, and my copy of The Bell Jar was well-worn from repeated readings as well. The Bell Jar is, in my opinion, what Catcher in the Rye is to teenage and 20-something guys. It’s a rite of passage book, a book that speaks to you when you’re young and at a particular kind of crossroads. And much like Catcher in the Rye, no one needs to make a film adaptation of The Bell Jar. It’s unnecessary. No one even remembers the film adaptation was already made in 1979! I didn’t even know that a film version existed until just now. Part of the charm of the book – which I probably need to reread, because I haven’t touched it in more than 15 years – is that the story is sort of un-adaptable. Well, guess what? It’s being adapted again. Kirsten Dunst is set to direct, and Dakota Fanning will star. Seriously?

Kirsten Dunst is set make her feature film directorial debut with The Bell Jar, an adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s famed 1963 novel. Dakota Fanning has been set to play the lead role of Esther Greenwood in the pic, which Dunst has co-written with Nellie Kim. The Stanford Prison Experiment producer Priority Pictures optioned remake rights from Studio Canal, and production is eyed to start in first-quarter 2017.

The Bell Jar is set in the 1950s and follows Greenwood, who takes an internship at a magazine in New York City and, after she returns home to Boston, begins to suffer from mental illness. A 1979 movie adaptation of the book was directed by Larry Peerce and starred Marilyn Hassett.

Dunst, just nominated for an Emmy for her work on FX’s Fargo, has directed a pair of short films: Welcome starring Winona Ryder and John Hawkes, which was screened at Sundance; and Bastard starring Brian Geraghty and Lukas Haas which screened at Tribeca and Cannes. Her recent film credits include Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special and she’s next up in Woodstock and Ted Melfi’s Hidden Figures. Dunst is repped by UTA and Management 360.

[From Deadline]

You know who could have played Esther? Kirsten Dunst 10 years ago. You know who should play her now? Um, not Dakota Fanning. And I hate to say this, but Gwyneth Paltrow would have been great in this role more than a decade ago too. Did anyone ever see Gwyneth in Sylvia, with Daniel Craig playing Ted Hughes? It was surprisingly well-done, and Gwyneth gave a really great performance as Plath, and since Esther was loosely based on Plath anyway… you know. I guess we should be grateful that Jennifer Lawrence and Alicia Vikander didn’t worm their way into this role, and I guess we should be cheering the fact that Kiki is moving towards directing. But… I’m just not feeling this at all.


Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet and WENN.

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30 Responses to “Kirsten Dunst set to direct Dakota Fanning in an adaptation of ‘The Bell Jar’”

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  1. Rapunzel says:

    True story: Wrote my Master’s thesis on The Bell Jar. My favorite book of all time. And I agree, Dakota Fanning is not Esther. The Draper girl from Mad Mad (Shipka?) would be good maybe. But no film is gonna capture the book. Not possible.

    • Locke Lamora says:

      I’ve never read the Bell Jar ( for some reason that’s a foreign book that was never in our curriculum). What’s Esther like? Dakota is a good actress, I feel like she could play anything, and her and Shipka are fairly similar.

      • Sixer says:

        I think mostly because the book is a roman a clef and both central character and author are icons on which generations of girls and women have parsed their own struggles and identities. Too many people have taken too many meanings from it. Also, it’s not a story for prettifying a la Hollywood.

      • sauvage says:

        Yup, I agree. Dakota Fanning is crazy talented; I think she can play anything and everything.

    • Ricky Ticky says:

      Dakota is a talented and experienced actor. I wouldn’t underestimate her.

    • Wowza says:

      Dakota seems like a nice girl, but I don’t know if she’ll age into a respected adult actor. It’s weird, but there’s this “presence” that she had as a kid that isn’t really there anymore.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with that! “It factor” is just this weird unquantifiable thing, it doesn’t reflect on your value as a person. Just interesting to see that charisma can fluctuate over time like that.

      • KHLBHL says:

        I agree with you! I think she had potential and talent when she was younger, but I’m not seeing the talent so much now. Our judgment of her is influenced too much by her younger roles, IMO. It’s probably because when you’re younger, you’re not necessarily coached or self-conscious. Like Jacob Tremblay. You just….be. But then, when you get older, you start thinking more and becoming more self-conscious and the acting becomes more cerebral, oftentimes to the actor’s detriment.

      • Marianne says:

        Her sister seems to be the bigger star now.

    • Palar says:

      I have no interest in watching a film based on this most excellent book.

  2. Sixer says:

    I first read The Bell Jar when I was about 10! Far too young probably, but I was *that* bookish child. The 1979 film is awful, take it from me. And I’m with you, Kaiser: I’ll be avoiding this one. What are they going to do? John Green it? Perhaps I’m being harsh but that was my first reaction. I think some books should just be left to speak anew to each generation.

    • Rhiley says:

      I read it far too young too and have only read it the one time so probably will add to my list of need to reread. I also read Catcher in the Rye, for the first time, at a very young age, around 10. I remember the summer before starting 5th or 6th grade reading almost all of JD Salinger- Catcher in the Rye, Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey. Unlike the Bell Jar, I have read and reread Catcher. Holden Caulfield has never once made me eye roll or think you are so full of it. But what is interesting to me, is how my feelings for him have changed as I have aged. In my youth, I thought of him as that sensitive friend I didn’t quite fully understand but who’s company I loved to be in. Now, in my 40s, I have much more maternal feelings for him. He is the boy who carries the weight of the world, and I want so badly to help him, but I can’t. I wanted to feel a connection the Plath, but I never really did. I am going to watch Sylvia though because I have never seen it and Kaiser has me curious.

      • Sixer says:

        I think that’s the exact problem with adapting The Bell Jar – kinda what I was saying above. Too many differing investments in it, sometimes more than one from the same person.

  3. Hadleyb says:

    Sylvia is one Goop movie I love and think Goop was great in that. I hated Daniel Craig with dark hair but he played the a-hole quite well!

  4. Ashley says:

    Saoirse Ronan would be great!

    • Locke Lamora says:

      To me, Saoirse, Dakota and Kiernan are pretty much the same in terms of talent, charisma, and even looks. They’re great, but very similar.

      • Ashley says:

        I feel like Dakota doesn’t really have that presence like she did when she was younger. I can’t really speak on Kiernan because I haven’t seen anything she has been in. Saoirse, to me at least, can emote with her eyes and I think you need an actress who essentially can convey alot without explicitly saying it.

  5. Div says:

    The Bell Jar isn’t exactly an adaptable book and for a first directorial project…nah.

  6. Lucy2 says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read it, so I can’t judge on the potential for it to be found, but I’m really happy to hear that Kirsten is branching out into directing.

  7. st says:

    Dunst criticized Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance as Plath in Sylvia.

    • Rapunzel says:

      Really? Why?

    • Rayya Kirt says:

      I personally liked Paltrow in Sylvia. I don’t know why exactly. She had lost her father recently I heard after so maybe she was raw, but I felt it. I related at that point in life as well. She wasn’t talking about yoga or gluten or towels in the movie. I felt and understood that desperation and depression and betrayal mixed with artistic need. I watched it far too many times the year it came out. I have no clue how this new one will fare, but it truly depends on the writing and acting…depression is very tricky to display. It’s in the energy. Paltrow seemed depressed. Luckily she has Goop now.

  8. Brandy says:

    Goop and the Draper Girl have one thing in common: they act by holding their mouths at different apertures. If open a whole lot, really upset. If only open about halfway? Just confused. Both = all wrong for Esther. I will say I’m not sure about Dakota Fanning. The woman that immediately leaps to mind for Esther is Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Always fascinating to me how differently people can react to an actor’s performance. I recently finished watching the entire seven seasons of Mad Men on Netflix, and my impression of Shipka was completely the opposite of yours–I thought her work was consistently nuanced and perceptive. At times she would turn Sally Draper a little deadpan, but I always felt this was her way of conveying Sally’s at-a-loss reaction to the nutty adult world around her. Just my two cents!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    It’s been years since I read the book, but I agree with Kaiser and the posters here who point out that the story just doesn’t lend itself well to film adaptation. That said, I’d love to see Shipka as Esther. Her Sally Draper was a wonderful mix of premature world weariness and sly humor. She never got a note wrong there.

  10. serena says:

    I guess we’ll see, I like Dakota Fanning, sure she’s not great but not bad either and she could do a good job depending on the script.

  11. Rayya Kirt says:

    I’ve read it years ago, but if she stays too true to the book, it will be very Sofia Coppola… whom Kirsten worked with and is an…extremely acquired taste. I am not sure how this book can be a movie that is interesting unless dramatic scenes or alternate variations are added. The screenwriting will be crucial. Mental illness does not translate well on the screen without many allowances that can go against the original story. It’s been shown often….and dialogue will be very crucial as much of the book was without. I am looking forward to seeing what happens.

  12. Kath says:

    Catcher in the Rye spoke to me when I was a 13-14 year old and obsessed about how everyone (but me, of course) was a “fake” and a “poseur”.

    The Bell Jar was me when I was around 17-18.

    Ahh, good times (not really). Adolescence sucks.

  13. DesertReal says:

    Well…at least it’s not Elle?

  14. Marianne says:

    I’m actually really interested in this project so far.