Let’s hear it for nepotism, y’all, Zoe Kazan is adapting East of Eden, the John Steinbeck novel her grandfather, Elia Kazan, turned into one of the greatest films of the 1950s. Seriously, though, two things can be true: Zoe Kazan is part of a significant Hollywood legacy, and she is very talented, and I am fully interested to see what she does with Eden. Especially since the first casting announcement is Florence Pugh as Cathy Ames Trask, the bitter hag mother of twins Aron and Cal Trask. Pugh will also co-produce with Kazan.
At this point, East of Eden is best known for being James Dean’s first major film role, as he played pouty prodigal son Cal Trask in the film. But in a statement, Kazan-mark-Zoe said, “I fell in love with East of Eden when I first read it, in my teens. Since then, adapting Steinbeck’s novel — the great, sprawling, three-generational entirety of it — has been my dream. More than anything, I have wanted to give full expression to the novel’s astonishing, singular antiheroine, Cathy Ames.”
So she’s going to focus on Cathy. That’s one way to set her adaptation apart from Grandpa’s, and even more critically, get out from under James Dean’s shadow. Even in a remake-rich environment, people have been VERY wary of treading where Dean once trod, but Eden, being Steinbeck and one of the “great American novels”, remains appealing despite his titanic legacy. There was a 1981 miniseries, which we watched in school because someone somewhere deemed the feature film “too sexy”—just in case you thought the moral panic going on now was anything new—I guess because James Dean pouts in it, but it’s not a sexy movie beyond Dean’s intrinsic appeal. And at various moments people such as Ron Howard and Gary Ross—who had Jennifer Lawrence signed up to play Cathy—were going to take a stab at it, but nothing ever came of those plans.
Zoe Kazan, however, caused a major bidding war for her adaptation, which Netflix won, and while they are undergoing upheaval after their stock crash, they still need new stuff to feed their content firehose. Unlike the other potential adaptations that got stuck in development hell, I bet we see this one to fruition. Netflix will never not need stuff, it will always be in their interest to make new stuff. Traditional studios aren’t trying to blast new movies in our faces every day, so it's a different pace and set of priorities on that side of the fence. But with Netflix? All but guaranteed we see this within the next couple years.