Screen rights to Carolyn Parkhurst‘s novel The Dogs of Babel have kicked around Hollywood for a couple of years. There was a point where Todd Phillips was attached to direct when the film was at Focus Features. It is now house at Mandate Pictures, which has just set Steve Carell to produce and star in the film about a professor who endeavors to teach his dog to talk. By the way, this is a drama.

THR says that Mandate is looking for a director immediately, which means this could be the one of Steve Carell’s many attachments over the past year to really go forward. Jamie Linden (Ten Year, Dear John, We Are Marshall) wrote the script.

The novel is about a linguistics professor (Carell) who finds his wife dead in the back yard. Her death is called an accident, but the prof harbors suspicions about what really happened, so he tries to teach the family dog to talk, because it was present when the woman died. (Benji’s Lovely Bones? Something like that.)

Most accounts I’ve read of the novel give it credit for the quirky premise, but complain about the plotting in the second half, where a great many additional characters and ideas get thrown into the mix. (The core of the story flips back and forth between the man’s attempt to learn the truth via canine, and flashbacks of his relationship with his deceased wife.)

And as a role for Steve Carell? I suspect the fact that this has been floating around for years is indicative of the fact that it is a part that could easily make even the best actor look silly. And making this perhaps the most overtly non-comic role of Mr. Carell’s career so far is a bold move on his part. Navigating the ‘comic to dramatic performer’ transition can be a tricky one, even with material that isn’t as loaded with pitfalls as this.

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