The ink on the Oscar nomination is not yet dry and Toni Erdmann is already slated for a Hollywood remake. Jack Nicholson reportedly loved Maren Ade’s German dramedy so much that he pitched the remake directly to Paramount’s Brad Grey, who quickly secured the rights and put together a team that includes Adam McKay and Will Ferrell in producing roles.
The original story follows Winfried, an aging music teacher, who struggles to reconnect with his workaholic daughter, Ines. When Ines finally sends Winfried away, he returns in disguise as alter-ego Toni Erdmann, “consultant and life coach” to Ines’s CEO.
Nicholson will star as Winfried/Toni, dispelling rampant rumors about the actor’s retirement. The living legend hasn’t made a film since 2010’s How Do You Know, in which he re-teamed with As Good As It Gets writer–director James L. Brooks. Although Brooks directed Nicholson to two of his three Oscar wins, How Do You Know wasn’t a high-point in either man’s oeuvre and would have been an anticlimax with which to end Nicholson’s career. Critics noted that Nicholson’s strange character and performance seemed out of place in the otherwise conventional film.
The titular character in Toni Erdmann, however, feels tailor-made for Nicholson: a half-mad prankster, bedraggled and charming, prone to wearing shades. Kristen Wiig will star opposite him as Ines in what promises to be a stellar comic pairing. And while it remains to be seen how much of the German film’s dramatic edge (and nearly three-hour runtime) will be retained in the remake, Wiig has recently shown her chops in a string of dramatic roles, including The Martian and Diary of a Teenage Girl.
No director has yet been attached to the project, allowing us to engage in wild speculation that Nicholson will rope his About Schmidt-helmer Alexander Payne into the project. Ade’s tragicomic sensibility lines up well with Payne’s, and the latter’s writing acumen and personal vision could help shield the remake from empty mimicry. Plus Payne recently wrapped work with Wiig on Downsized, a satire in which Matt Damon plays a man who decides to shrink himself.
Barring Payne’s involvement, though, it’s reasonable to worry that this remake is gratuitous, or another Hollywood attempt to exploit a great foreign film. Recent remakes have run the gamut from Matt Reeves’s respectable Let Me In to Spike Lee’s inexplicable Oldboy, and Toni Erdmann’s premise could easily fall into sentimentality in the absence of Ade’s light touch.
But Jack Nicholson is still Jack Nicholson. And any excuse bring him back to the big screen, especially in such an outstanding role, is welcome. As Nicholson himself would say, “more good times.”
Related Topics: Comedy