Remaking an acclaimed foreign film is as inevitable as it is inadvisable. By and large, the projects are doomed from the start. Critics see them first and always fixate on comparing it to the original. The tone isn’t right. The cultural nuance is gone. They dial back the most intense moments, or get rid of the narrative fat that gave the film character. Even the all-powerful element of surprise is sacrificed from the get-go. It’s pretty hard for a film to climb out of that hole, especially when the same people who gave the original movie cache are the first to take it away. We critics are the worst, I know.
But I have some good news for you, Brad.
I’m ready for the remake of Toni Erdmann. I can’t wait, actually. Not because I loved this original German version, but because I honestly think it can be done better. You, specifically, can do better. And by the sounds of it, you‘re already well on your way.
You’ve got Adam McKay and Will Ferrell in your corner as fellow producers. Kristen Wiig has been tapped to play the female lead. And, of course, the giant who got the whole ball rolling; Jack Nicholson He called you up personally, asking you to acquire the rights for Paramount so he could star and come out of his six-year retirement. Cast-wise, it’s a match made in heaven. No writer or director has yet been attached, but with this talent onboard, safe to say you’ll have your pick of the litter. What could possibly scare them off?
For starters, the runtime. It seems unconscionable to make a 2 hour and 45 minute off-beat, laggard “comedy” that lives and dies by a believable character quirk. The core of the story revolves around a father-daughter dynamic that it’s in no rush to explore, slowly revealing a transformation that’s both unexpected and obvious. She’s a tightly-wound executive consultant, he’s an unkempt and unpredictable drifter who prefers prosthetic teeth over proper conversation. The languid pacing serves to repel any gravitational pull towards slapstick comedy, or laugh-out-loud comedy of any sort. Which means if people only see Ferrell’s name attached, and your history producing movies like Happy Gilmore, The Cable Guy and Scary Movie, they might make up their mind that you’re about to embark on the definition of a bad Hollywood remake. But, of course, you’ll quickly point them to another film on your resume - one of the most successful (critically and commercially) remakes of all-time – The Departed. A different genre, to be sure, but with Nicholson on board again, sparks could fly. But only if you make some tough decisions.
Let’s start with that big one. I beg you: don’t cut 30 minutes from this film. Cut 60. Don’t be scared. I’m positive you can still provide a sparse atmosphere and all the necessary character dynamics. The trick will be not to rush the moments that matter most. Especially, the most memorable one (you know which one I mean). Wiig has already proven that she’s willing to expose herself for a film, so retaining the incredibly awkward and sustained nude scene is going to be essential. It’s the shot of caffeine that turns the film on its head, and cheating the photography by cropping out the naughty parts will rob the moment of its power. The song she sings later is also an easy win to keep, as well at least a hint of her secret relationship (I can live with a less German version of that kink, though).
But the biggest changes will be around the titular Toni Erdmann. As it stands, Peter Simonischek plays the role almost apologetically. The restraint is admirable for its attempt to keep it the story grounded, but there’s room to grow without crossing into farce. We normally watch a remake lamenting what was – I watched Toni Erdmann only thinking what it could be – and this was before I knew anything about your upcoming remake.
I’ll be in the minority, to be sure, since this Oscar-nominated version will have no shortage of fans and defenders. But there would be no satisfying them anyway. So be brave, and make a new version of Erdmann – one that’s both as familiar and unrecognizable as a twilight-aged man getting into character to find simple joy in life and reconnect with lost love.