PERSONAL: Born in Bellevue, WA; married Tamara Jenkins. Education: New York University, M.F.A.
ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY. Agent—c/o Fox Searchlight, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.
CAREER: Screenwriter and film director.
AWARDS, HONORS: (With Alexander Payne) Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1999, and award for best feature film, Independent Feature Project/West, 2000, both for Election; Golden Globe Award and Academy Award, both for best screenplay, 2005, for Sideways.
(With Alexander Payne) Citizen Ruth (also known as Meet Ruth Stoops), Miramax, 1996.
(With Alexander Payne) Election (adapted from the novel by Tom Perrotta), Paramount, 1999.
(With Alexander Payne) About Schmidt, New Line Productions, 2002.
(With Alexander Payne) Sideways (based on the novel by Rex Pickett; produced by Fox Searchlight, 2004), published as Sideways: The Shooting Script, Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Author and director of Memory Lane 1995, Living Will, 1999, and The Lost Cause, 2004. Author, with Alexander Payne, of Jurassic Park III, 2001; and Tupperware!, 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Jim Taylor has established himself as a top screenwriter with scripts such as Citizen Ruth, Election, and Sideways, all co written with Alexander Payne. Citizen Ruth, the duo's first collaboration, takes on the issue of abortion in the story of Ruth Stoops, a woman whose life is dominated by substance abuse. Ruth sniffs paint and glue, and her life is a shambles. Having has had and lost four children, Sue now becomes pregnant again. When a judge orders her to have an abortion, Ruth's case is championed by Gail Stoney, a pro-life activist. Ruth becomes a pawn in a political struggle as both pro-life and pro-choice groups try to use her case to promote their agendas. The film satirizes both sides of the volatile issue, showing that hypocrisy exists everywhere.
Taylor and Payne adapted a novel by Tom Perrotta for their next project, Election. This dark comedy pits a high school teacher, Mr. McAllister, against an overachieving student, Tracy Flick. As in Citizen Ruth, everyone's weaknesses are exposed. The principal cheats on his wife and has lustful feelings for Tracy; Tracy herself is the target of McAllister's anger because she previously seduced a teacher and destroyed the man's marriage. When Tracy campaigns for the position of president of the student government, McAllister decides to teach her a lesson by grooming a candidate to defeat her. His choice is a likeable but slow-witted athlete named Paul. The race becomes more complicated when Paul's lesbian sister joins in, running on a platform of dismantling the student government altogether. The result is "a fierce teen satire that adults will have no difficulty cherishing," according to Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Election takes particular glee in demonstrating the obtuseness of adults … and showing how conniving students can be when they're consumed by their jealousies, rivalries and relationships. Election enjoys making the audience complicit in all these wicked schemes; making us feel good about people being bad is one of this film's most satisfying triumphs."
Taylor and Payne won praise again for their work on About Schmidt, which features Jack Nicholson in the title role of Warren Schmidt, a retired businessman in Nebraska. When his wife dies suddenly, Schmidt looks back at his life and revisits places that were significant to him in the past. His reflections continue as he makes a long drive to his daughter's wedding. His thoughts, sometimes expressed in voiceover snippets of letters written by Schmidt to an African orphan he has sponsored through a charity group, expose "bittersweet aspects of the American scene," according to David Sterritt in Christian Science Monitor. Noting that "Payne and Taylor haven't lost their ear for the facile aphorisms of middle-class life," Sterritt nevertheless expressed ambiguity about the film's conclusion, stating that it can be seen either as an indictment of America's psychological drabness or as an optimistic statement that "Warren's dreams of a beneficent world have finally come true." Another reviewer, Paul Povse, remarked in the State Journal Register that Schmidt's lengthy letters to the illiterate African boy are "both hilarious and touching."
Taylor and Payne won high acclaim for another adaptation with the 2004 film Sideways, based on the novel by Rex Pickett. Sideways concerns Miles and Jack, two men in their forties who have been friends for years. Miles is a failed novelist who loves fine wine; fussy and self-important, he is floundering after the breakup of his marriage. Jack is a has-been television actor who is about to marry after years of compulsive womanizing. Before the wedding, the two friends set off for a wine-tasting tour in California, and the result is a wine-sodden road trip. Reviewing Sideways for the Chicago Tribune, Michael Wilmington praised the "sharp, wittily idiosyncratic dialogue, the brilliantly observed characters and backdrops, the ingenious plot turns and the solid sympathetic humanity: Everything about Sideways' writing invites comparison not just with the best screenplays right now but the best American screenwriting of the whole sound era." Wilmington felt that the screenwriters have accomplished "a little miracle," in that they "made a great movie out of an entertaining but flawed novel. They haven't just preserved the best qualities of Pickett's Sideways…. They've crafted a work much better than the original: more sympathetic, moving and true."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chicago Sun-Times, April 30, 1999, Roger Ebert, review of Election, p. 31.
Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2005, Michael Wilmington, review of Sideways, p. 6.
Christian Science Monitor, December 13, 2002, David Sterritt, review of About Schmidt, p. 15.
Library Journal, February 15, 2005, Rachel Collins, review of Sideways, p. 132.
Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1999, Kenneth Turan, review of Election, p. F1.
New Yorker, October 25, 2004, David Denby, review of Sideways, p. 96.
New York Times, January 17, 2005, Sharon Waxman, "Aviator and Sideways Earn Golden Globes," p. E1.
Seattle Times, November 4, 2004, Moira Macdonald, "Sideways Captures Wine-soaked Essence of Book."
State Journal Register (Springfield, IL), January 9, 2003, Paul Povse, review of About Schmidt, p. 14.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), November 19, 2004, Shawn Levy, "Sideways Creators Insist on Authentic Characters," p. 9.
USA Today, July 18, 2001, Mike Clark, review of Jurassic Park III, p. D2.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (February 28, 2005), "Jim Taylor."
Weekend Read, http://www.foxsearchlight.com/ (February 28, 2005), Jim Taylor, "Weekend Read with Jim Taylor."