November 20, 2015

New “indie dramedy” loosely inspired by David Foster Wallace, but what isn’t?



Novelist and screenwriter Jesse Andrews is planning a film “loosely inspired” by David Foster Wallace. Photo: IMDb.

Another set of Hollywood execs trying devilishly to monetize David Foster Wallace’s literary legacy? That’s the inevitable reaction to Entertainment Weekly‘s announcement that SNL veteran Bill Hader is set to star in a forthcoming film “adaptation” of Wallace’s classic essay about a week spent on a luxury cruise. Who would think about bringing Wallace to the screen so soon after this summer’s widely-maligned biopic starring Jason Segel (covered by MobyLives here and here)?

But wait. As Jeff Sneider reported for The Wrap, screenwriter Jesse Andrews will make his directorial debut with Empress of Serenity, pitched as “an indie dramedy loosely inspired by David Foster Wallace’s ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.’”

“Loosely” is the key word here. Sneider explains:

Empress of Serenity is an original screenplay that follows a man (Hader) who embarks on a cruise to bond with his father, who helps his son deal with intimacy issues…The film is not an adaptation of Wallace’s work, which merely served as inspiration for Andrews’s original idea.”

The clarification is important because that’s nowhere near the premise of Wallace’s essay, which details the fleeting pleasures and poignant miseries of a week spent on a luxury cruise in the western Caribbean. Originally published in Harper’s as “Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise” in 1996, the essay is a meandering exploration of what drives a person to seek relentless pampering in the midst of watery expanses, and was notable for its obsessive rendering of detail, existential musings, and brilliant wit (incidentally, one wonders if David Brooks‘s recent piece in the New York Times—“My $120,000 Vacation”—was inspired by Wallace’s essay).

Everything indicates that the Entertainment Weekly headline is calculated for attention, not accuracy. Andrews is a novelist who broke into the movie industry by writing the hit screenplay of his 2012 book Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. In an interview with, he cited Wallace has one of his literary influences, describing him as one of a handful of writers who are “not content to just stack paragraphs.”



Kait Howard is a publicist at Melville House.