One of the most cherished (and protected) works of New Orleans art, John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces, is once again heading for the big screen, allegedly. Vulture reports the latest attempt at bringing the misadventures of Ignatius J. Reilly to the screen will be led by James Bobin (Flight Of The Conchords co-creator, The Muppets director), off a script by Phil Johnston (Cedar Rapids and the upcoming Alexander Payne film Nebraska) and star Zach Galifianakis in the role of the iconic Reilly. Previous proposed film adaptations of the tome have had John Belushi, Harold Ramis, John Candy, John Waters, Stephen Fry, John Goodman, and Chris Farley attached to it at. Most recently, Steven Soderbergh and Will Ferrell were allegedly in cahoots to do it, though when we talked to Ferrell in 2008, he mentioned Jack Black had even once been attached to it and touched on why he thought the film has never made it to the big screen.
I don't even know how real it was for a studio ever to make it. I think it might have been leaks and trade-paper momentum and things like that. It never got to that place of where I started thinking of it. Because I learned enough to know that stuff was talked about all the time, and then it just disappears. So I don't get that in-the-mode with anything until I know for sure that it is happening. That was a heavy thing, though; I thought "Wow, if this happens, this is like a big one to bite off." The book is so talked-about that its fans are either going to be like "They blew it," or "Wow, great job!" So I was like, "Be careful what you wish for on this one." I know that Jack Black was in talks about it at one time.
It’s a salient point; the book has staunch defenders, none more so than the people of New Orleans, where the book is set and where author Toole lived. A hilarious note on the book’s Wikipedia page says, “Various reasons are cited as to why the movie has yet to be filmed. They include: disorganization and lack of interest at Paramount Pictures, the head of the Louisiana State Film Commission being murdered, and the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans.” The points are taken from a solid 2006 piece on Slate by Peter Hyman.
More importantly, as Hyman points out, it’s the complex nature of the material that’s likely prevented the book from ever being adapted. Hollywood’s apparent desire to make it more palpaptable for mainstream audiences-Hyman mentions an exec who wanted to make Relliy a thin man to appeal to fans during the aerobics craze of the 1980s-would not only alienate the source material’s legion of fans (as Ferrell pointed out), but likely reduce the book's sharp humor and main character to a guy in a fat suit ripping farts. And that’s not to mention the jokes, references, and language tics that are specific to New Orleans (and southeast Louisiana as a whole) that Toole so perfectly captured in the novel but would be lost on wider audiences.
Those are among a host of reasons why the book has never been put to celluloid and, perhaps, never will. It’s not that Bobin and Galifianakis are incapable; they are and, as pointed out above, plenty of other talented names have been attached to adaptation have failed. But maybe Hollywood should finally heed the lesson. Some even believe of a curse surrounding attempts to make a film version. Whatever the case, it's probably for the best it never gets made because, as Mrs. Levy notes in the book, “It will all end very badly, Gus”