The German comedy about a tightly wound businesswoman and her relentlessly practical-joking father resists easy categorization, but seeing it is worth every minute. Rating: 4 stars out of 4.
The glorious peculiarity of the German comedy “Toni Erdmann” resists easy categorization. What is it? Something about a tightly wound businesswoman and her relentlessly practical-joking father. But what?
I suggest you find out the old-fashioned way and actually see it.
Writer-director Maren Ade has created a story, a profoundly complicated relationship and a uniquely bracing dark comedy of unusual depth of feeling. The film offers a wealth of casual, wickedly funny insights into what makes parents and children, women and men do the things they do under duress.
Movie Review ★★★★
‘Toni Erdmann,’ with Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek. Written and directed by Maren Ade. 162 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use. In German, English and Romanian, with subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
Watching Ade’s film, I had zero idea where it was going scene to scene, even moment to moment, and Ade pushes her characters into ever-stranger directions. I only knew I was at the hands of a fascinating, tonally ambitious filmmaker working at a very high level.
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Plotwise: pretty simple. Returning from Shanghai, business consultant Ines reunites in Germany with her recently retired music-teacher father, Winfried. She’s about to scoot off again to Bucharest, Romania, where she advises an oil firm.
This father/daughter relationship has been strained for years, maybe forever. Winfried is exasperating, always pulling someone’s leg, popping in a pair of screwy false teeth, plopping a black fright wig on his head. The opening scene sets up “Toni Erdmann” (the title comes from the name of Winfried’s alter ego) beautifully, as Winfried receives a package at his modest apartment and calmly informs the delivery man that it probably contains the mail-order bomb ordered by his pretend “brother,” Toni.
Much of the picture is set in Bucharest, as Winfried takes up Ines on her halfhearted offer to host him there. The film takes a wild left turn at the halfway point. Later, it’s her fright-wig father who helps Ines reconnect to her better instincts.
Running more than 2½ hours, Ade’s Oscar-nominated film is worth every minute, showing the brilliant whip-crack of Sandra Hüller as Ines, and the veteran Austrian actor Peter Simonischek as her father, aka Toni Erdmann.