Film Review – Toni Erdmann
What to make of Winfried, the elderly scamp whose idea of fun is playfully tricking a Fed Ex man into thinking he’s carrying a bomb to his doorstep? A man whose very idea of fun, in fact, is slipping a pair of goofy fake teeth in while your back is turned. He is a walking dad joke with an adorable dog, a job that’s puttering out and a nearly manic interest in his daughter’s life and well-being. And then there’s the whole alter ego thing. This is the film Toni Erdmann.
Peter Simonischek is Winfried, a self-declared prankster who, after the death of his beloved dog, makes an unannounced trip to Bucharest, Romania, where his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) is traveling on behalf of a soul-sucking corporation in the oil industry. Although she is quite clearly miserable, she does as she’s told and finds her father’s sudden party appearances less than heartening. After a few tense days, Winfried cuts his trip short and heads home. In walks Toni Erdmann.
Maren Ade directs this curious German-Austrian comedy-drama, a showcase for Simonischek. Again donning his beloved fake teeth and a wig I haven’t seen this side of Tommy Wiseau, Winfried becomes consumed in the character of Toni Erdmann, all too often at the expense of his daughter’s dignity. He does his best to schmooze at her bigwig industry parties and show her life isn’t as cut and dry as her smart business suits might imply.
At nearly 3 hours long, Toni Erdmann has a lot of time to explore our two main characters. Perhaps a little too much time. The dynamic of the two leads is unquestionably the heart and soul of the film and both are more than up to the task. But, and I don’t know if it was just a case of being lost in translation, certain set pieces and heart to hearts tended to meander. It is far from the wall to wall hilarity some advertising seems to suggest.
Still, I’ve had this movie stuck in my head all week. For all of its ruminating lulls, there’s a lot to ponder here. What drove the wedge between Winfried and Ines in the first place and is his often childish behavior really going to convince her to give him a chance?
While far from the gangbuster comedy I originally expected, Toni Erdmann does have the distinguished honor of building to one of the most explosively funny series of scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Let’s just say it’s uninhibited.
I’m glad I saw Toni Erdmann and am, a week later now, still sorting it out in my head. Sometimes baffling, sometimes beautiful. Despite the quibbles mentioned and arbitrary letter grade below, I’m eager to check it out again in the future. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for in a movie.