The film adaptation of Claire Messud’s gorgeous novel The Emperor’s Children has faced an unfairly bumpy trip to the screen. Back in 2009, Ron Howard was slated to direct the film from a script by Noah Baumbach. Then the project seemingly fell dead, with no news until March of 2010, when Howard left the project entirely, leaving both writing and directing duties to Baumbach. At that time, a list of attached cast members was announced (including Keira Knightley, Eric Bana, and Richard Gere, with buzz about some other names like Michelle Williams). Production was supposed to start last summer, but of course, it didn’t, and know Baumbach appears to be back out of the director’s chair, with Crazy Heart helmer Scott Cooper stepping in to direct from Baumbach’s script (according to an insider report from Twitch).
Cooper burst on to the scene with his Jeff Bridges-starring Crazy Heart back in 2009, a directorial debut so lovely and assured that it earned its star his first Oscar (after being nominated no less than six times). Since then, Cooper has had his own fair share of project whiplash, with rumors that he was on the shortlist for Gangster Squad, news that he was developing his own take on The Hatfields and the McCoys, and attachments to the Carancho remake, Empire of the Summer, and Black Listed The Low Dweller. Which is all a nice way of saying that, just like The Emperor’s Children, there’s been a lot of talk about Cooper, but no action. Could this be a match made in heaven? Let’s hope so.
The material of Messud’s book is right up Baumbach’s alley – East Coast upper classers with some serious issues. It follows a group of Ivy League grads living in New York City and facing their adulthood in various states of disarray and denial. Though most of the characters in the book are not sympathetic (something that might actually suit Cooper’s sensibilities), they are well-crafted and should be pretty meaty roles for whoever is cast. The novel takes place in the summer of 2001, and the petty problems of its lead characters are already interesting on their own, but they take on an added dimension as the pages (and months) go by, winding unstoppably on to what will occur in the city on a Tuesday in September. The book is a particular favorite of mine, and I think it’s absolutely ripe for a film adaptation.
With the film reportedly gaining momentum, there’s no word on the cast that was tentatively in place last spring (though Twitch does still mention Gere and Knightley, along with the apparent new castings of Rachel McAdams and Emma Thompson) or whether or not Baumbach’s script will see a rewrite by Cooper (likely). If this does pan out, the film would start production sometime next spring, which likely accounts for Baumbach jumping ship, as he’s most likely too busy to get to it (he’s got a documentary with Jake Paltrow going on, his long talked-about While We’re Young to get off the ground, and just last month there was buzz that he was going to adapt another great novel for the screen, taking Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections to HBO). [The Playlist]