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‘Toni Erdmann’ Remake: Why We’re Skeptical About the New Cast — Analysis

The German-language Oscar nominee is being remade with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. Say what? The IndieWire team debates the casting decisions while keeping hope alive.

This week, it was announced German language Oscar nominee “Toni Erdmann,” the third directing effort from writer-director Maren Ade, would be remade in English with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. Since IndieWire recently curated a gallery suggesting the cast for this developing project, several members of the editorial team shared the following thoughts on the latest news and whether or not it bodes well for the upcoming film.  

ANNE THOMPSON: So now we know who’s starring in the Paramount remake of Oscar-nominated “Toni Erdmann.” Jack Nicholson had the sense to like the movie so much that he convinced Paramount chairman Brad Grey to acquire the rights so he could play the snaggle-toothed father. The studio has cast Kristen Wiig as his workaholic achiever daughter, which means that they are chasing a commercial American comedy. (If they were invested in Oscars, they’d have cast deeper actresses Amy Adams or Jessica Chastain.)

As usual, what the movie will be depends on the script and the director. Producer Adam McKay, the writer-director behind “The Big Short,” provides some hope. I wish he was directing. (That option will be up to him.)

“Toni Erdmann”

DAVID EHRLICH: I honestly don’t think that the success (or lack thereof) of this remake will hinge on the cast. Jack Nicholson will be Jack Nicholson, Kristen Wiig will be Kristen Wiig. I’m considerably more concerned with how the Americanized version of Maren Ade’s hyper-specific, Eurocentric story will repurpose the original film’s pressing concerns about globalism and apply them to the Trump era. Will the new Ines take a job in Mexico on the other side of the wall? It’s hard to imagine another option. Of course, that issue is so urgent and in our faces that it might threaten to overwhelm everything else.

At the very least, I hope that the remake will hire someone who can preserve and play off of Ade’s biting commentary about women in the workplace, and the various obstructions and annoyances that are unique to that experience. As one of the few people who was totally in love with “Landline,” I’d nominate Gillian Robespierre to direct.

ZACK SHARF: “Toni Erdmann” was my favorite movie of 2016, so I’ll forever be in the “why is Hollywood remaking this masterpiece in the first place?” camp. That being said, Jack Nicholson is an ideal choice for Winfried. He’ll be able to strike that sensitive balance between sad curmudgeon and lovable prankster. Wiig is the wild card: Her casting indicates the movie might become a more broad, accessible work, though her recent run in indies like “Welcome to Me” proves that may not actually be the case.

In the end, it’s all about finding the right director and tone. These characters are tough to watch but impossible not to love, and both Nicholson and Wiig can handle that challenge, so it’s the director’s control of tone and trust in his characters (not plot) that will make or break the film. David, Robespierre is an excellent choice to direct, but I’d also suggest Alexander Payne — who worked with Nicholson on “About Schmidt” and has “Downsizing” with Wiig out this December.

Toni Erdmann

“Toni Erdmann”

KATE ERBLAND: I’m no longer resisting the ever-churning maw of the remake machine, instead opting to embrace the possibilities that new versions of beloved classics  — instant classics, in the case of “Toni Erdmann” — can offer willing audiences. That said, what a wild couple of hours in remakeland! Nicholson is a canny, clever choice for Winfried, a truly unexpected stroke of casting genius that should pan out in wonderful ways. I agree that Wiig is harder to pin down — while I maintain that she’s got dark drama in her, some of her recent forays into non-comedic roles haven’t really paid off — but I remain hopeful that putting her up against a powerhouse like Jack will force the best work out of her. The key here is the director. As funny as “Toni Erdmann” is — and I can’t remember the last time I laughed harder in a theater than I did the first time I saw Maren Ade’s film — it’s also got some deep corners and bigger questions to explore. This is not some LOL riot played just for gags, and if it snags a director bent on that, that’s when we get into trouble.

ERIC KOHN: Some great points here. But I can’t even begin to contemplate these casting announcements without experiencing a deep-seated frustration with the motivations behind them. I’m averse to the whole idea of a remake because of what it implies — that somehow this great movie can’t possibly be accessible to a subset of English-speaking audiences averse to subtitles.

OK, I realize there’s some truth to that assessment. So allow me to suggest a productive solution: Hire Maren Ade to make an English language movie! The brilliance of “Toni Erdmann” — and I had to watch it twice in order to realize this — stems from Ade’s ability to toy with expectations. (Her first film, “Everyone Else,” does the same thing.) The movie veers from brooding drama to physical comedy, workplace satire to sexual commentary. It’s a jarring blend, and certainly not the sort of thing that most American audiences would be willing to sit through, which means the remake is likely to smooth its edges.

But imagine what a brilliant director like Ade could do, given the unique creative challenge of translating her sophisticated storytelling into something more readily accessible to a broader audience? That’s essentially what singular American directors like Payne and Quentin Tarantino have been able to accomplish in recent decades: The translation of international cinema into an American vernacular.

Maybe I’m living in a fantasyland even envisioning this approach for a director who enjoys complete autonomy working in Europe, but for the time being, I’d rather relish that fantasy than anticipate a remake of “Toni Erdmann.” Having said that, we did offer some stronger possibilities for a remake cast in our gallery. I remain convinced that Rosario Dawson and Cheech Marin in a bittersweet father-daughter would make the world a happier place, even in a subpar movie.

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