TONI ERDMANN Review
Director: Maren Ade
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Of all the films released in 2016, none seem to be as eccentric, unique, and deeply personal as Maren Ade’s astonishing TONI ERDMANN. This film is a crazy, balls-to-the-wall German comedy brimming with personality, awkwardness, and surprising insights into modern complacency. The story itself is a conventional narrative of the reunion between an estranged father and daughter. Sure, this idea of parents and children trying to understand each other has been done cinematically before, but this film breathes new life into the formula. Ade’s multi-cultural menagerie is boosted by plenty of squirm-in-your-seat awkward humor and outré imagery.
A large reason for TONI ERDMANN’s intimacy and relatability is the hand of director Maren Ade. Ade loosely based the character of Erdmann on her own father. This creates an added intrigue into the relationship of the film’s main characters. This film is Ade’s third, and you can feel her come into her own as a writer and director with this courageously assured piece of cinema. There are many complex themes explored throughout the film’s 162 minutes, which include complacency, the loneliness of an expat, strained familial relationships, and the absurdity of life. Ade skillfully weaves these messages into a wholly unique experience.
Well, um… that’s one way to get someone to spend time with you
Lead actors Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller turn in revelatory performances, creating a completely fascinating father-daughter duo that we are willing to invest in for over two and a half hours. Simonischek plays Winfried, a retired piano player who has a mental break after suffering a very sad loss. Winfried has always been a fan of practical joking and enjoying life, but this loss pushes him to mend his broken relationship with his daughter and help her find joy. His daughter Ines (played by Hüller) is an icy and super-serious career woman focused only on pleasing her superiors. Ines is very much a cog in the corporate machine when we first encounter her. She is an expat, living in Bucharest, Romania, and the film delves deep into the isolation that weighs her down. This makes for a very interesting examination of the cultural collision between Germany and Romania, and further expands the film’s complex themes.
Winfried decides to disguise himself and take on an alias, namely the titular Toni Erdmann. Disrupting Ines’s life by constantly showing up wherever she goes, Toni’s funky wig, unsettling dentures, and strange demeanor forces Ines out of her comfort zone. TONI ERDMANN features some of the most jarring scenes I have seen in cinema this year. Yet this is what makes the film so mesmerizing, its ability to make you laugh, cry, and squirm in your seat. The film’s unique comedy and pacing allow the viewer to fully live in the awkwardness of the moment, taking in all the nuances and abnormality. There is one scene in particular near the film’s end that is one of the year’s most incredible, a perfect emotional climax and the crowning jewel of this film.
Toni Erdmann is giving Julia Roberts in MOTHER’S DAY competition for most unfortunate movie wig ever
If I were to complain about anything, it would be the film’s gratuitous length. Sure, the thematic intention behind the film’s length is to match the droll, awkward-pause comedy. But I couldn’t help but feel that the film at times felt bloated and could have used trimming. There are plenty of long takes, which are unique, but sometimes I was left considering that less is more. Overall, TONI ERDMANN is an absolutely fantastic achievement of German cinema. The journey that Winfried and Ines go through is breathtaking and full of heart, with incredible performances, quirky, hilarious writing, and unique splashes of surrealist imagery.