Jack Nicholson Will Un-Retire to Play the English-Speaking ‘Toni Erdmann’

Kristen Wiig will co-star.

Subtitles: Who needs ‘em? That seems to be the logic at work in one of American moviemaking’s most inexplicable trends: taking a perfectly approachable foreign film that is released, acclaimed, and widely available on our shores, and just remaking it in English. It usually goes poorly, but that doesn’t seem to matter; we’ve got Force Majeure and Train to Busan in the works, as well as a new take on Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, which is currently in limited release and up for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars.

Again, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Erdmann, though spoken in German and lengthier than average, isn’t exactly inscrutable; in fact, in its broad narrative strokes and comedy-of-awkwardness default setting, it’s not far removed from your average American studio comedy/drama. Some schmuck deciding to go ahead and close that gap is the sort of thing we’d normally just ignore, assuming it’ll be another Dinner for Schmucks and that’ll be that. But the casting of English Erdmann has now made this one a bit more noteworthy.

Jack Nicholson hasn’t appeared in a narrative feature since 2010’s lackluster James L. Brooks comedy How Do You Know. Much like his contemporary Gene Hackman, who quietly stopped acting after 2004’s Welcome to Mooseport, observers assumed after a couple of years that Nicholson had simply retired – a development seemingly confirmed by his longtime friend and occasional collaborator Peter Fonda last month. But, as Page Six noted, “Fonda believes the offer of a ­fantastic new role may tempt Nicholson back to a film set, but it would have to be something ­special to entice him out of ­retirement.”

Apparently Erdmann is that fantastic role. Variety reports Nicholson will play the aging, jokester father who discovers he can best communicate with his high-powered businesswoman daughter via the disguise of a brash “life coach”; Kristen Wiig will play the daughter, a bit of casting that should cheer anyone who’s seen her challenging and complicated turns in Welcome to Me, Diary of a Teenage Girl, and The Skeleton Twins. The Big Short and Anchorman director Adam McKay will produce. Paramount, which will release the remake, has not yet found a screenwriter or director, so let’s enjoy this casting news while we can, before they announce some mediocre dude director. Or, perhaps worse, Nancy Meyers.