Toni Erdmann, 2016.
Directed by Maren Ade.
Starring Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Puetter and Hadewych Minis.
A bittersweet German comedy about a prankster father who disguises himself as a man named ‘Toni Erdmann’ in a bid to get the attention of his serious, business executive daughter.
Parents and adult children struggling to forge mature relationships with one another will appreciate Maren Ade’s nuanced, sensitive and very amusing feature Toni Erdmann.
Shaggy haired, portly piano teacher Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a man who fancies himself an affable practical joker. His estranged daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), however, is unimpressed and dedicates all her energy to her job as a steely management consultant in Bucharest. After sensing some emotional distress during one of their brief reunions, Winfried decides to leave German suburbia and surprises Ines with a visit to her home in the Romanian capital. The encounter goes badly leaving Winfried experimenting with rather eccentric ways to approach his only child.
Thus the character Toni Erdmann is born. Winfried dons a ridiculous wig, false teeth and the persona of a charismatic motivational speaker/retired businessman/former ambassador. Much to Ines’s annoyance, Erdmann appears unexpectedly at restaurants, parties and even her office, inserting himself into her life. Yet despite her initial irritation, Ines gamely plays along with the Erdmann charade. The bizarre situation gently nudges father and daughter closer together, revealing their mutual sadness and quirky sense of humour.
Clocking in at 162 minutes, Toni Erdmann does sometimes meander and various scenes could’ve been cut without jeopardising the beauty of the story. Still, writer-director Ade consistently maintains the film’s poignancy, depth and fun. There are no visual gimmicks, instead she lets the characters and script breathe, rewarding audiences with gems like an impromptu rendition of ‘The Greatest Love of All’, and a 7-foot tall Yeti-style costume at an awkward breakfast brunch.
As for the two leads, Simonischek and Hüller are truly wonderful. Their performances as the off-kilter father-daughter duo are quietly commanding and note-perfect. Both naturally portray the shades of love, depression, loneliness, frustration, joy and friendship that colour lives and interactions, especially in the 21st century.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★