Toni Erdmann Review

Posted: October 28, 2016 in 2016 London Film Festival, Comedy, Drama, Foreign, Reviews
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Toni ErdmannSaying that Toni Erdmann is a great film is easy. Explaining why is considerably more difficult. Rarely is a movie so obviously good in the viewing and so elusive in the analysis. A simple synopsis yields few clues as to the work’s manifest virtues. A frustrated career woman is forced to deal with the stresses of her job and the unexpected appearance of her practical jokester of a father, and that is essentially the whole show for two hours and forty-two minutes. And it’s in German. And it’s billed as a comedy. That’s what’s known in the business as a “tough sell.”

Maybe, just maybe, Toni Erdmann is the rare contemporary film for which critics and reviewers can play an outsized role in raising awareness so that audiences don’t miss the opportunity to see an indescribably transcendent work. Bottom line: if you love movies, you have to see this one.

We meet music teacher Winfried Conradi and his comic alter ego, Toni Erdmann, at the onset. As played by Peter Simonischek, Winfried/Toni is not a middle aged (plus a few years) man who has refused to grow up. Instead, he is someone wise enough to recognize the absurdity and impermanence of life and to choose to meet each day and every potentially difficult situation in a ridiculous shaggy wig and a set of disfigured false teeth. That’s all well and good around his town in Germany where he is known and loved, but it creates a tension of his sorts when he takes his act on the road, namely to the workplace of his only daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), at the headquarters of a multinational corporation in Bucharest, Romania. Ines is a consultant, struggling with her clients, her co-workers, and herself to get ahead.

The very last thing that Ines needs, from her point of view, is an extended visit from Dad, but he comes and goes, and life, even as nasty, brutish, and short as hers is shaping up to be, is set to go on, when she discovers that Toni Erdmann has just pulled up to the club in a limousine. Slowly, we realize that this is not a movie about a fun-loving man, but a story about his only daughter. The relationship is not what you see between adult children and their parents. This is what generally occurs when a girl is coming of age, where her father becomes an embarrassment, when she learns of frustration and failure and unfairness. Toni Erdmann shows that the father-daughter relationship is pure and precious and vital for every day that the Old Man is still around.

Sandra Hüller as Ines delivers a performance that will serve as a point of comparison for great actresses in the years to come. It’s difficult to overstate the sustained excellence of her portrayal of a frustrated woman, dancing on a knife blade, as she tries to avoid abject failure at the workplace and a mental breakdown on the side, all while looking out for her father. Over the course of the film, Ines realizes that it’s her father who is looking out for her. Director/screenwriter Maren Ade has given us a special gift with Toni Erdmann scheduled to open in the U.S. market on Christmas Day

  1. reocochran says:

    I really like your closing comment. What a wonderful ending! To know we take care of each other is important in life. 🙂

  2. Great review thank you; I’m glad you liked as did I and we both agree that it is challenging to analyse. This is one of the most original European comedies of the year; its a slow-burner, not much happens, but its wonderful to watch the subtle shifts in the father-daughter bond that is being portrayed. People seem to miss how redemptive and loving is the father’s antics and how it leads his daughter out of a sterile career and towards self-recognition. Quirkly, insightful, and charming are my three concluding adjectives.

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