One for the Money: Book vs. Movie

Last month, I re-read the first Stephanie Plum novel, One for the Money, which in 2012 was adapted into a movie starring Katherine Heigl.

I had first seen the movie several years after I read the book and while I was already well into reading through the series in order.  At the time, I felt like the movie wasn’t really doing the book justice, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason.

Unlike many people, I didn’t have too much of a problem with the casting.  But I did notice that at least one of the scenes that had the biggest effect on me while reading the book (and thus one that I remembered vividly) was very much downplayed in the movie.

I thought that having recently re-read the book was a perfect time to re-watch the movie and note down some of the differences between the two while both versions were still fresh in my mind.

So without further ado, here are some of the main differences I noticed:

[Warning: Potential spoilers to both the book and the movie throughout.]

Story modernization

Certain changes between the book and the movie were understandable given that there was almost a 20 year difference between when the book was first published (1994) and the movie release (2012).

Most obviously, they had to raise the amount for Morelli’s bond: what was a hundred thousand in the book became half a million in the movie.

Another major difference was the adaptation of the character who supposedly witnesses Morelli shoot an unarmed man.  The Vietnam Veteran pothead became a young Asian American pothead.  Granted, there may have been reasons to make this change other than just modernization.

References to future books

By the time the movie was released, there were already 18 regular series books published, plus 4 “between-the-numbers” books featuring Stephanie Plum. Over time, the series developed its own tropes and recurring motifs, which the film makers felt they had to make reference since the viewers would likely be expecting them.

For example, in the movie, Stephanie is seen talking to her friend Mary Lou. While such scenes do occur in many of the earlier books in the series, Mary Lou only appears in high-school flashbacks in the first book.

Similarly, in the book, it is Eddie Gazarra that takes Stephanie to the driving range to learn to shoot.  In the movie, this role is filled by Ranger, thus reflecting more of the relationship between Stephanie and those two characters later on in the series.

Other references to future books include Ranger mentioning that he’s “trying to diversify”, thus referring to the fact that he no longer works for Vinnie’s Bail Bond office as the series progresses.  Additionally, Morelli brings Stephanie a cupcake at the end of the movie (instead of pizza at the end of the book), in reference to the fact that “cupcake” is his nickname for Stephanie throughout the series.

Big Blue

One of the biggest references to future books in the movie is the appearance of the classic car, Big Blue.  While Big Blue is a recurring character throughout the series, it actually doesn’t make an appearance in the first book.

One of the unfortunate consequences of including Big Blue in the movie (in place of the clunker that Stephanie drives in the book) is that the plot necessitated that it be vandalized and damaged — but as any Stephanie Plum series fan knows, Big Blue is indestructible.

Plot simplification

Another understandable part of making a movie adaptation is that it often requires simplification of the plot.  Thus, in the book, Stephanie has three FTAs in addition to Morelli, while in the movie there are only two.

The mystery is also greatly simplified:  in the movie, Joe Morelli already knows that Kulesza (the man he shot) was involved in heroin trafficking and that the boxer, Benito Ramirez, is directly involved in that and the death/disappearance of Carmen.  Additionally, Carmen is referenced as Ramirez’s girlfriend.  In the book, on the other hand, the heroin connection is not revealed until very late in the book, and Carmen is not Ramirez’s girlfriend but dies/disappears as a direct result of Ramirez’s sadistic ways.

Benito Ramirez

And speaking of Ramirez’s sadistic ways: they are greatly downplayed in the movie. We clearly see that he is violent in the movie — he slaps Stephanie around in the boxing ring, for example.   But we do not get much of a glimpse of him as a sexual predator.

There are many more terrifying scenes in the book where Ramirez leaves threatening messages on Stephanie’s phone, or shows up at her apartment and leaves his semen on her door.

Attack on Lula

The most terrifying scene in the movie involving Ramirez also involves Lula.  In the movie, Ramirez beats Lula up and then drives by Stephanie’s building and dumps Lula’s body out onto the street.  While this scene isn’t exactly peachy, the same event is much much darker in the book.  In the book, Stephanie wakes up, opens her bedroom curtains and finds Lula unconscious, bloody and naked, tied to the fire escape.

While the movie makes it seem like Lula recovered from the attack almost right away, in the book it takes several days in the hospital for Lula to be well enough to be discharged.

The ending

Finally, the book continues the frightening theme of nowhere being safe for Stephanie by having her apartment intruded by the main criminal(s). The ending of the movie, on the other hand, preserves the safety and sanctity of Stephanie’s apartment by staging the main show-down at the dock.

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