First the news: Zach Galifianakis is the latest actor to try and play Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist of John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer-winning A Confederacy of Dunces. John Belushi was supposed to play the role for Harold Ramis back in 1982. After him it was John Candy and then Chris Farley. Will Ferrell was on the role a few years ago, being one of the few prospective Reillys who didn't kick the bucket - the film project did.
Now it's back, and The Muppets director James Bobin is helming. Zach, should he survive pre-production, will be Ignatius - one of the most titanic characters in 20th century fiction. I actually think that Galifianakis is a fairly good match for the character.
But is this a good idea? I suspect not. Ignatius J. Reilly is a character who, when the book was published (posthumously, as Toole committed suicide at 31. His work had been roundly rejected during his lifetime, so the irony of Confederacy winning the Pulitzer is mighty), was unique. Reilly is a slobbish fat guy who lives with his mom, he's a hardcore nerd who hates all modern pop culture and longs for the middle ages. He goes to the movies daily to mock them. And in the book he is forced to leave the house and get a job, a task that is fraught with peril for one such as him.
In the 1960s, when the book was written, Reilly was a character unlike any other yet seen. In the 1980s, when the book was finally published, Reilly was still a blazingly unique figure. But in the years since he has slowly saturated our pop culture. Dwight on The Office is like Ignatius J. Reilly visiting us on a weekly basis. Now Ignatius would be diagnosed and medicated, and he'd probably have a whole host of like-minded weirdo friends on the internet.
If Bobin is smart he's setting the film in 1962, like the book (and it goes without saying that it'll be set in New Orleans, I hope - it's considered such an iconic New Orleans book that there's a Reilly statue in the city). That'll help preserve some of the uniqueness of Reilly, but I wonder if audiences will see the character and just go 'Oh, another nerd movie.' And I'm wondering if Paramount, who is producing the film, sees it as anything more than that. Confederacy feels like it should be made on the cheap, not positioned as an Oscar film (and with Scott Rudin onboard expect to see Galifianakis getting pushed for Best Actor). There's an ineffable sadness to the whole book (which is not cinematically structured in the least) that I feel will be tossed aside to focus on uplift.
Maybe I'm just being too protective of a great book. I don't have a huge problem with the team working on the movie right now (although Bobin is no Soderbergh, who was attached with Ferrell). And if history is any indication this version won't move forward either. At the very least this will take Zach Galifianakis a step away from the Jack Black path of making me despise him.