Daniel Barnz Adapts Barbarian Nurseries

Wood-Burning Stove of the Vanities

Nope, it's not a prequel to Conan. The Barbarian Nurseries is a humorous American novel with socio-political overtones, written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hector Tobar. It's now about to get the movie treatment from Beastly director Daniel Barnz.

The story involves the Torres-Thompsons, a yuppie couple with Mexican and American heritage, who employ illegal Mexican immigrant Araceli as their live-in maid. After some bad investments, however, life isn't looking quite so rosy, and a row over a garden neglected since the financially expedient dismissal of their garderner leads to both halves of the couple storming off in a huff for several days, unaware that the other has also done so.

The Torres-Thompsons' three children, then, are suddenly in the care of Araceli. When she can't get hold of either parent, she decides to place the children with their estranged Mexican grandfather. Cue a quest through the scruffier and more dangerous parts of LA, viewed through the prism of the fantasy novels that one of the kids voraciously reads (so hey, maybe there's some Conan in here after all). While that's happening, the Torres-Thompsons come home to find everyone missing, and spark a media frenzy that stirs up all kinds of simmering racial and political tensions.

The whimsical, fantastical elements would seem a good fit for the director who stuck Alex Pettyfer in a Beauty And The Beast movie. But if the ghastly misfire of Beastly gives you pause, take a moment to reflect that Barnz also made the indie favourite Phoebe In Wonderland, and his strong-looking Won't Back Down, starring Maggie Gylenhaal and Viola Davis, is out shortly.

"The Barbarian Nurseries is a great natural step from Won't Back Down," says Barnz. "It's also essentially a human drama that has some political overtones, and I'm very drawn to those kinds of films." Some have called the book a kind of West-coast version of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire Of The Vanities, so let's hope Barnz makes a better fist of this than Brian De Palma did of that.