March 24, 2014
“A & P” Comparison
Bruce Schwartz’s 1996 film adaptation of John Updike’s short story “A & P” is relatively true to the original plot. In both, the nineteen year old boy, Sammy, is completely distracted from his work at the cash register when three girls his age walk into the grocery store A & P wearing only their bathing suits. After the manager, Lengel, scolds and embarrasses the three girls for dressing inappropriately and violating the store’s dress policy, Sammy quits his job in hopes of becoming the girls’ “unsuspected hero” (Updike 1316). Although, Sammy is the main character and narrator in both the story and the film, Updike and Schwartz take different approaches in the point of view of the story to emphasize how teenagers view things and how things really are.
Updike’s story does not go into much detail on the manager of A & P, Lengel. Lengel does not come into the story until the end, when he notices the three girls at Sammy’s cash register in their bathing suits. When Lengel is finally introduced, the reader begins to see Sammy’s attitude towards his manger: “Then everybody's luck begins to run out. Lengel comes in from haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel's pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn't miss that much" (1315). With this attitude, Sammy feels like he and Stokesie do all the work that there is to do in A & P while Lengel sits in his office all day and picks up some deliveries at times. Schwartz introduces part of the first scene with Lengel (Randy Oglesby) after Stokesie (Jeramy Guillory), another former employee at A & P, and Sammy (Sean Hayes) clock in to start their day at work. Schwartz puts more emphasis on the stress that a manager has running a grocery store. Throughout the film, Lengel is both in his office making phone calls assuring that items will be in by a certain day and moving around the store counting and recounting making sure there are enough items for their customers. He even scolds Sammy and Stokesie while they are playing their loud music right before the opening of A & P. Although the film emphasizes the stress Lengel is under, both Updike and Schwartz display the same amount of patience and compassion that Lengel has for Sammy. After Sammy says he is quitting, Lengel changes from an aggravated mood due to the scolding from the girls to the patient family friend. He calmly says to Sammy, “Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad” (Updike 1317, Schwartz). He gives Sammy enough time to take back what he said; he wants to be able to give Sammy another chance to take his job back. Sammy may view Legel’s actions as unfair and being the bad guy because he embarrassed the girls after scolding them in front of all their customers but Lengel would be correct to the audience’s eye because Lengel is manager of the store and he has to follow the store’s policy. In the short story, the reader is reading the story in the eye’s of Sammy. Throughout Updike’s version, Sammy is the narrator and he is telling his story from his point of view. Being that Sammy is a nineteen year old boy, he considers himself and his peers to be adults. With that being said, in the story these characters seem more mature and are able to be highly confident in themselves as they seem throughout the book. For instance, immediately when Sammy notices the three girls, he recognizes that Queenie has her bathing suit straps down, hanging loose from her shoulders. But in the film version, Queenie (Amy Smart) is constantly making sure her bathing suit straps are always up right, especially when Lengel is scolding the three girls at the cash register.
While the point of view in the short story is in Sammy’s eyes, Schwartz takes a very different approach, especially because he is able to do more with the film than the story. Schwartz makes the characters in the film seem more hesitant than what they are portrayed in Updike’s version of the story. During the film, the audience will hear Hayes’s voice over explaining what he thinks and what he sees. Sammy thinks Lengel is a bad guy and that Queenie is perfect. He truly wants to impress her, so he eventually quits his job in hopes of becoming their hero. But the audience also does get to see Lengel’s reactions, facial expressions, and attitude towards Sammy and the three girls. Of course, with Lengel being the adult, he is more mature than the others. But it is also made known that he is superior by the way the other characters act. Even though Sammy is an employee, he has no say in how Lengel should treat their customers, even if they are pretty girls.
The film version is relatively true to the short story, but Schwartz takes a very different approach in how “A & P” is portrayed. In subtle ways, Schwartz interprets these characters differently because he has more than just Sammy’s point of view about that day at the grocery store. Due to the fact that Updike’s short story is in Sammy’s point of view, Sammy thinks himself and his peers confident adults. On the other hand, Schwartz does put the story in Sammy’s point of view by adding a voice over of his thoughts, but he also has the added material to bring Lengel’s true character and role to the story. Lengel’s role in the film is to be the kind and stern adult that puts these young teenagers back in their place by lowering their confidence and making them slightly hesitant.
Updike, John. “A & P.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. 1313-1317. Print. “A & P.” Dir. Bruce Schwartz. Perf. Sean Hayes, Randy Oglesby. 1996. Film.