Paul (James Caan) is a writer famous for his romance novels about a woman named Misery. After finishing his new non-Misery novel (having killed her in his newest published book), he crashes his car during a blizzard. He’s rescued by Annie (Kathy Bates), a former nurse who treats his multiple injuries in her home, claiming there’s too much snow to take him to town. She also says she’s his number one fan, but is really only interested in the Misery books. While she has him trapped, she forces him to burn his manuscript and start fresh on a new chapter of Misery. If it’s not the masterpiece she’s expecting, she’ll get upset, and when Annie gets upset, terrible things happen.
James Caan may get top billing, but Kathy Bates really makes the movie. Her performance is incredible; she captures the childlike innocence, the fawning obsequiousness, and even the blank-faced deadliness of Annie. I often loathe William Goldman’s screenplays, but I like this one a lot. He keeps the best parts of the book and manages to leave out the parts I hate, such as King’s disgust for fat women—he often adds gross details about their appearance, like Annie having a lot of earwax. Goldman also edits out Paul having to drink his own pee.
I do have some major issues though, like the invention of Buster the small-town sheriff (Richard Farnsworth), and his wife Virginia the deputy (Frances Sternhagen). They’re played for laughs, and I don’t think they belong in the movie, given the serious subject matter—their small-town cutesy-poo-ness is an annoying distraction. I do have some logistical questions too. I’m skeptical about Paul being a world-famous writer because of romance novels—name me one romance novelist besides Danielle Steel. (Because of my job at the library, I can name a handful.) Also, how does Annie live? She’s unemployed (having lost her nursing job for her habit of killing babies, which she was acquitted of) and although she has a farm, she never seems to do much work on it—she’s either bothering Paul or driving to town so he can have a chance to build suspense by roaming the house.
Speaking of suspense, the film is a veritable tension factory, particularly in the scene when Annie confronts Paul about leaving his room. She opens with a story about disobedient mine workers being injured but not killed so they could keep working. Paul squirms and asks her not to do what she’s planning. She then puts a board between his feet and breaks his legs. Looking rather orgasmic, Annie sighs, “Oh, Paul. I love you.” It’s interesting that Annie and Paul have the classic abusive relationship: Annie starts out sweet, then loses her temper and hurts him, apologizes, and is sweet again. Overall it’s a fascinating film, full of twists and turns and tension.
I can sort of sympathize with Annie, at least with giddy preteen side of her personality, mooning over Paul and depressed that he doesn’t feel the same way. I can even sort of relate to the control freak part, like when she finds out about Paul’s excursions because he knocked over a ceramic penguin and put it back facing the wrong way. That said, she’s also unstable and very unpleasant. Check it out if you want to see a rare specimen: a critically acclaimed horror movie.