“American remake” are two words that drive a stake in the heart of most cinephiles. And for good reason: Most Hollywood redos of foreign fare are very bad. The ones that are good — or even, dare we say, better than the original — we can put on a very short list. (Here’s one example, and it’s blasphemous: “Let Me In” is a better film than “Let the Right One In.” Come at us.) We’re especially on edge about the inevitable remake of the German comedy “Toni Erdmann,” no less because it was our favorite film of last year. But we’re feeling a little better hearing this: Lena Dunham and her “Girls” co-creator Jenni Konner may wind up the ones adapting it.
If you haven’t heard of “Toni Erdmann” — and it was nominated for an Oscar and made about $1.4 million in the U.S., which for an import is nothing to sneeze at — it concerns a workaholic woman (Sandra Huller) whose life unravels at the hands of her goofball father (Peter Simonischek), who dons bad fake teeth and an even worse wig and pretends to be a life coach/entrepreneur/annoyance named Toni Erdmann. Yes, as plenty of critics pointed out, that sounds like the plot of a dumb Adam Sandler film. In fact, it’s almost the same plot as “That’s My Boy,” in which Sandler terrorized his bourgeois son Andy Samburg.
You might have also heard of “Toni Erdmann” by another name: as “that three-hour German comedy.” (Hey, it’s only 162 minutes.) One of the main worries its fans have had was that the American version would whittle this epic down to two hours or (yikes!) 90 minutes, gutting the nuances and the careful tone, which straddles dark drama and bizarre comedy like a pro. Then again, it did attract august company: It’s tentatively slated to star Kristen Wiig and Jack Nicholson, the latter who saw the film and was so delighted he decided to return to the screen for the first time since 2010’s “How Do You Know.”
The presence of Dunham and Konner makes us feel even better. If anyone knows what it’s like to be a woman fighting for space in a cut-throat man’s world — one of the most insightful aspects of the original — it’s two women who’ve risen to the top of the entertainment business (and had to fend off swarms of sexist naysayers over social media and elsewhere). And should the two indeed wind up with the gig, they’ll surely keep some of the more risque material. As our critic colleague Sean Burns enthused on Twitter, that almost certainly means we keep the shocking “petit fours” scene — the first thing any normal American remake would cut.
Of course, this is all tentative. The remake currently has no director, and Wiig or even Nicholson could always pull out. And then we may wind up with the crappy, braindrained “Toni Erdmann” anyway. Here’s hoping life finds a way.