(How to Do It’s primary objective is to create serious discussion on how to adapt various properties to the silver screen. It is not about my dream cast for a Great Lakes Avengers television show. But seriously, Ellie Kemper IS Squirrel Girl.)
This month’s How to Do It features a book that has been said to be cursed: A Confederacy of Dunces. It is a tale of Ingatius J. Reilly, a quixotic bulk of a man in constant attempts at maintaining employment following his mother’s car accident. Before I get too much further into how to do the adaptation, a history lesson is in order, I should think. A Confederacy of Dunces is one of two posthumous novels written by John Kennedy Toole and published eleven years after the author’s suicide. It has since become one of the great American novels, even winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. With its larger than life characters and the howlingly funny situations Ignatius finds himself in his constant attempts to find employment, it’s no wonder that the film version was soon to come. In 1982, Harold Ramis was all set to direct an adaptation starring Richard Pryor and John Belushi. The project died when Belushi did. In the twenty-eight years since that, three actors have been attached to the project as Ignatius: John Candy, Chris Farley, and Will Ferrell. You can guess what kept the first two from working. Will Ferrell has yet to die, of course, but right when his version was actually getting prepared to shoot on location in New Orleans? Hurricaine Katrina happened. That’s where the development of Confederacy of Dunces is right now: on hold with the continuing reconstruction in New Orleans. Read on to see my take on how, if ever, the film should be adapted.
Go for broke with Ignatius
Ignatius Reilly is one of my favorite comedic characters in any medium. He’s eccentric, brazen, endlessly creative, and absolutely clueless. He is a man who completely rejects modern culture, choosing to mock it at any point in time, including going to the movies to specifically to mock and deride. He espouses Middle Ages philosophy while calling country folk without the modern conveniences he enjoys to excess a bunch of rednecks. Batsh*t crazy, hypocritical, and bizarrely intelligent, Ignatius would be an absolute wonder to behold with the right people handling him. I’m glad the Will Ferrell version fell through because I think he would spend more time playing up the oafish aspects of Ignatius’s personality while avoiding that inner core of moral outrage and anti-modernism. Ignatius would be sold incredibly short as a tubby Southern Ron Burgundy. He’s the king of love to hate characters, and this will require a command performance.
Just leave Katrina off the table, dudes
If A Confederacy of Dunces adaptation brings up Hurricaine Katrina even a little, I will travel to Heaven to shoot God in the face Saint of Killers-style for ever making it hit New Orleans. If the film tries to take the time out to explain just why Ignatius is out of a job because his last job was wiped off of the Ninth Ward by the flood waters. I’m terrified that the wrong writer would use Katrina as an excuse to shoehorn in some political jabs at the old Bush administration or, even worse, try to use it as an excuse to humanize Ignatius. Imagine Ignatius Reilly, sobbing over his hot dogs, filled with fury over the breaking of the levees like some ridiculous John Goodman from Treme. Sometimes, you can let a tragedy lie.
Myrna Minkoff, Ignatius’s ex-college girlfriend, is a character largely visited through correspondence between her and Ignatius, with the exception of her climactic return to New Orleans in the book’s final pages. She’s a sex-crazed artist living in New York City,and a large part of her reason for being is to show up Ignatius in just the same way he desire to show her up. I’m not saying we need to get a sub-plot where their relationship in college is detailed, but I would love to see her role expanded upon, if only to give Ignatius someone just as crazy as he is to bounce off of. Speaking of bouncing off of…
THE SUPPORTING CAST IS GOD
Much of Ingatius’ adventures hinge on the various characters he meets during each of his abortive job attempts. From the patrolman in the opening pages, who is punished for an unwarranted attempt to arrest Ignatius by being forced to wear a different ridiculous outfit every day, to Dorian Greene, a flamboyant homosexual and counterculture staple that causes Ignatius to believe that war should be replaced by large-scale orgies, if only the gays could seize the highest authorities of the land. Ok, that’s actually pretty offensive, but damn if it wouldn’t be funny to see that kind of revelation strike Ignatius on screen.
A Confederacy of Dunces may never see the silver screen. Whether you believe in the book’s curse or not, the continued problems in post-Katrina New Orleans will require a fairly fearless filmmaker and studio involved to even get the project off the ground, as many might still see filming in the area as “too soon” after a national tragedy. The worry may be that a comedy set in the beleaguered city might come across as sweeping the tragedy under the rug. It’s a valid concern too; New Orleans is as much a character in Dunces as Ignatius himself if, and it’s a city that’s found itself wounded for five years now. Introducing that kind of element could prove poisonous for the film’s tone, but it’s still a subject that can’t be ignored in adapting the book. It’ll take a better writer than I can hope to be, that’s for sure.