As David Ehrlich noted some weeks ago, an American remake of “Toni Erdmann” was a “bad idea”, but it was also inevitable. And how could it not be? Not just because it was the best film of 2016 – in the opinion of many critics, myself included – but because it was a story with universal appeal that was not going to be seen by many people in this country. And that’s even if it wins the Best Foreign Film Oscar (as it should). That’s because there is a very limited American audience for any film, no matter how good, that runs two and three quarter hours with subtitles.
But it was inevitable for another reason too. This was because some of the most enthusiastic supporters of the film will be other filmmakers and actors. They would see that the story is so universal that a faithful remake here has the potential to be hugely popular. And, at the same time, that there were going to be many filmmakers who would want to do it, and so they’d better make the deal fast, or lose their chance at it.
Well, Paramount seems to have been selected, even though a director has not yet been set. But the two leads have: Jack Nicholson will play Winfried, the father, and Kristen Wiig will be the daughter, Ines. I still feel that Jeffrey Tambor was ideal for Winfried but, hey, we’re talking Jack Nicholson here. It certainly whets the appetite.
There are too many potential pitfalls – obvious ones – that could turn it into a disaster. In fact, Maren Ade, the German writer-director of the film, won’t even be involved. She’s only listed as one of the executive producers. Already the choices for director, writer and the rest of the cast has become a parlor game. There’s talk that Will Arnett will play the lover in the petit four scene (a delicious prospect). You can be sure I’ll be paying attention.
But, no, what concerns me more than whether the remake is any good is how it may affect Ade’s future career. This was only her third feature, and she’s said it took her five years to write. Even if she’s only peripherally involved in the remake, this may well interfere with, as well as delay, her next film project. She’s certainly facing a lot of pressure now. She’ll be getting offers constantly, and there will be a lot of buzz about them. Whatever she chooses, however, will be something I’ll be very excited about. But if the remake fails, will this doom her next film project as well? The uncertainties of the film industry are such that this is not an unrealistic concern. She’s been quoted as saying she wants to “really take her time” on her next film. But, considering the kind of pressure she’ll be under, is that realistic?
It may turn out to be important to get the green light on her next film before the remake is released. Unnecessary delay could result in a loss, both for her and for the rest of us.
At least that’s my take on it.