Even if they’re a little goofy, they’re still your family.
Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is an old goof-ball, who gets by on teaching music at a local high school and generally playing pranks on all of those around him, one especially involving a pair of fake-teeth that he casually brings around in his pocket and puts on from time-to-time. Why? Well, no one really knows – they all just sort of take it as a thing that he does and they leave it at that. His estranged daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), returns home from wherever she’s been, and gets his hopes up for them catching up and spending some time together. All his hopes and dreams are dashed once she informs him that she has to head out for Bucharest in the morning, where her firm is currently making all sorts of moves to help better improve the work-area there. Seeing as an opportunity for them to fully hang out together, Winifried surprises Ines, but not being himself – instead, he’s playing “Toni Erdmann”, the German Ambassador, who has fake-teeth and Tommy Wiseau-like hair. Initially, this bothers the hell out of Ines because it may ruin all of the business she has to do, but eventually, she kind of gives in and sees just how far her dad can keep this joke up.
Not too long, I was talking about Blood In Blood Out and how it’s near three-hour run-time wasn’t all that justified. Sure, there was some good stuff in it that could have definitely made it into a feature-flick, but not nearly enough to pad-out a whole three-hour flick. At first, I had the same feeling with Toni Erdmann; while it is a shorter movie by about thirty-minutes, it’s still a two-and-a-half-hour long comedy about, of all things, fathers, daughters, family and yeah, globalization.
Sounds like something you’d want to spend two-and-a-half-hours watching, right?
Well, here’s the funny thing: I felt the same way. For the longest time, Toni Erdmann just felt too slow, too meandering, and too formulaic to really work; that first hour has some bright and promising ideas, but it also seemed like writer/director Maren Ade also wanted to take way too much of her time developing them, even if they don’t really go anywhere. It sort of made me think of all the mumblecore flicks of yesteryear, but instead of blabbering teenagers, here, we just got a bunch of Germans going on and on about business and not giving us any context to it all.
But then, about halfway through, it all clicks. The plot does eventually come in, the characters start to become interesting, and oh yeah, all of that business-jumble begins to make some sense and at least matter to the overall plot. See, what’s interesting about Toni Erdmann and Ade’s writing, is that there’s always a build-up. What that is, is never exactly clear, but slowly and surely, we start to get an idea of where the movie’s going, only to then have it pulled from underneath us, time and time again.
In a way, Toni Erdmann is a dark comedy about family and love and all of that sentimental junk, but the movie doesn’t really play that hand too often; it could have easily gone in deep with the father-daughter relationship and had us be a witness to a lot of shouting matches, but nope, that doesn’t happen. Ade seems much smarter than that, in that she knows that sometimes, the best way to build tension, even in the smallest breaths imaginable, is to not really try hard to build-up anything at all – it’s better to just let it simmer.
Which may sound boring, I know, but it works.
Toni Erdmann is the rare movie in which a great deal of the comedy is so subtle, you may have to check once or twice to see if you forgot anything, until at the very end, all of the big laughs come in with reckless abandon. Take, for instance, a near-20 minute sequence that starts off weird and continues to get more and more ridiculous as it goes along, staying hilarious, until the very end of it and all of a sudden, there’s something sweet and heartwarming to it all. There’s a few other scenes like this, which is surprising, because you’d think that a trick like that would only work once, but time and time again, Ade finds ways to surprise and go against convention.
Without her around, man, this remake better be good.
Speaking of that supposed-remake, as great and as talented as Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig are, it’s going to be a little hard to see Winifried and Ines, respectively, played differently than by Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller. Both are so perfectly fit for these well-drawn and three-dimensional characters, that you almost wonder if they were written for each one of them in mind. Simonischek is bright, charming and likable, even when it seems like he’s sort of making stuff up on the spot, whereas Hüller has to play it straight and narrow, but gets some opportunities to shine and show some personality and she works quite well with it.
Together, the two create a perfect chemistry that constantly keeps this movie exciting. You know that there’s something sad between them two, but rather than it being some long lost secret of heartbreak and hurt, it’s more that they just both outgrew one another; you still get a sense of the great history they spent together, which makes some of their more melancholy and quiet scenes, pretty damn sad. But Ade keeps it smart in that she gives us a father-daughter relationship that isn’t too obvious, has enough mystery going for it, and doesn’t really try to say who the worst person between the two is.
After all, they could both be horrible. Who knows?
Consensus: Even with the long run-time, Toni Erdmann sorts itself out as a solid mixture of comedy, drama, and character-stuff that makes it well worth the sit-down.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire