Max Minsky and Me
Max Minsky and Me
Movie (in German)
Nelly Sue Edelmeister is a supersmart, rail-thin 12-year-old whose twin obsessions are astronomy and her distant heartthrob (and fellow stargazer), young Edouard, Prince of Luxembourg. Nelly lives in Berlin with her German Christian dad and American Jewish mom, who is very eager for Nelly to crack down on her bat mitzvah studies. Nelly doesn’t take much interest in them, and has even less patience for the very unbookish concerns of her schoolmates, whose lives center on the girls’ basketball team.
But when Nelly learns that the basketball team will go to a tournament in Luxembourg hosted by her favorite prince, she negotiates a deal with Max: she’ll do his homework for him if he coaches her to become a clutch basketball player. Thus begins the delicate and unlikely friendship between gawky Nelly and reluctant Max. The film’s glimpses of today’s Jewish Berlin – Nelly’s great-aunt, an overearnest rabbi, an insecure mother – are handled with an easy nonchalance, aided by a script full of adolescent angst laced with the occasional cosmic fantasy taking us into the outer spaces of Nelly’s vivid imagination.
Max Minsky and Me is (loosely) based on the novel Prince William, Maximilian Minsky and Me. It was shot on location in Berlin in 2006 and released theatrically in 2007.
* Click to enlarge.
From Charles to William to Eduoard
One day when I was twelve years old – it was just before I discovered boys – I happened to chance upon a book in my school library entitled The House of Windsor. I had no idea what the House of Windsor was. I knew the House of Horrors in Coney Island, the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and the House of Pancakes on the Long Island Expressway. But the House of Windsor drew a blank. I opened the book…
…and discovered Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten Windsor, a dashing young royal in an elegant, three-piece herringbone suit. Okay, he was no heartthrob. He had Buddha’s ears, a nose all the way from New York to Missouri, and an altogether crooked and goofy-looking face. But, hey, he was a real live prince. And he even spoke English! I was smitten.
I remember wondering what it would be like to marry a prince, a real prince, and if Charles would have to abdicate the throne to marry me, an American, and if he did, would he come and live with me in Queens, New York, or would we settle into a ranch-style house on Long Island? Or could I dare to hope to live in Buckingham Palace? I even decorated our home in my imagination. There would be 14-karat-gold fixtures in the bathroom, we would have a silk chiffon canopy over our bed, a pool and a tennis court in the extensive gardens beyond the palace.
As the story goes, I never married the British crown prince. I ended up in Berlin with an Eberhard in a nice enough apartment with stainless steel fixtures in the bathroom. No pool.
Summer 1993. Jewish Life in America was the theme of that year’s Festival of Jewish Culture. They asked me to produce a one woman show for their program which I gladly accepted. I created a literary revue and was able to sneak my Prince Charles story into the stage show and into the title of the production. Two years later I adapted it into a radio drama.
August 1997: When Princess Diana was killed in the Parisian car accident and I saw how the media immediately targeted into Prince William — he was fifteen at the time and adorable — well, when I saw how the media had found a new star in William (Harry was still too young for that), when I saw how grown women melted away when they saw William, how teenage girls in England, the US, Canada, and even in Germany, were wild about this handsome young prince who had just lost his mother, when I saw all that, I remembered my own Prince Charles story and my writer’s mind started spinning out a new story.
At first I put the story in a New York setting and made it into a classroom reader (Teen Reader) for learners of English. Soon after, I began work on the novel.
I set my novel in Berlin and decided to put it into a German-American milieu. I made my protagonist’s mother a Jewish-American not unlike myself, and though I’m not much of a practicing Jew, I know many American women in Berlin who are.
As my story and the characters started coming to life, it struck me that there were few books about Jewish children in today’s Germany. I thought my novel might help bridge that gap. I decided to make Nelly thirteen years old because thirteen is an important year for Jewish children, the year they have their bar and bat mitzvahs, the coming-of-age ceremony that makes them adults in the eyes of the Jewish community. Using Nelly’s bat mitzvah as a vehicle, Jewish culture could be conveyed in a simple and realistic fashion to a young audience that knew little about it.
So now I had two themes: Nelly’s infatuation with a prince, and Nelly grappling with her Jewish roots. The flip side to infatuation is “true love” or “true friendship,” so I needed a love interest. Enter Max Minsky. As in most romantic comedies, I needed to make Nelly and Max very different from one another. So Nelly became this super-intelligent nerd who’s interested in the stars, and Max an intellectually-challenged beast interested in nothing – or at least that is what it seems at first. In the novel Max plays at being a Goth. In the movie this was not used, but as a contrast to Nelly’s fascination with the galaxy, Max is fascinated by Berlin’s world under the ground.
As in all “fairy tales” you need a “fairy godmother,” so I created Risa Ginsberg, a wise and reverent Polish Jew who survived the holocaust, and her wacky friends, Frau Goldfarb and Frau Levy. I added Nelly’s philandering, musician father, Benny Edelmeister, and Max’s divorced mother, Melissa Minsky, a woman at the end of her rope. Nelly also needed an antagonist, so Yvonne, fifteen, was created. I shook it all together and came up with the novel Prince William, Maximilian Minsky, and Me.
Later, we shook the novel up even more for the screenplay, moved the action up from 1997 to 2007, got rid of Prince William who at 25 was no longer the adorable star he was at fifteen, created a fictitious prince of Luxembourg, and Risa Ginsberg, originally a 75-year-old friend of the family, became a somewhat younger great aunt. Astoundingly enough, with all the changes from the novel to the screen, and, believe me, there have been so very many, the characters themselves still hold up, more or less true to themselves. Even more surprising, what I wrote in the spring of 2000 in my outline for the novel, still works for the movie:
“Prince William, Maximilian Minsky, and Me” is the story of Nelly’s coming-of-age, her search for an identity: how she learns to respect her roots, appreciate her mother, accept the weaknesses of her father, make friends, and open up to the world around her – a world full of paradoxes. It’s a world in which the smartest girl in the class can sometimes be the dumbest. An enfant terrible can turn out to be a Prince Charming. It’s a world in which we can put our faith in the laws of science, yet still embrace our religious roots. It’s a world in which a city like Berlin with a dark past can become a haven of light.