Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek
Who’s ready for a nearly three-hour satirical family dramedy from Germany? Actually, everyone should be, as Toni Erdmann is compellingly watchable and thoroughly entertaining.
Peter Simonischek stars as Winfried, a retired practical joker who goes to visit his busy professional daughter after the death of his beloved dog. Living in Bucharest for work, his daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), is not quite pleased with her father’s unscheduled visit, as she is in the middle of a huge deal that would solidify her place at her high-powered consulting firm. After a rather lukewarm visit, Winfried returns as the made-up persona Toni Erdmann, a life coach with bad teeth and worse hair (or bad hair and worse teeth; it’s hard to decide from scene to scene).
In her third directorial effort, producer Maren Ade has done something truly stunning. She has taken a film Hollywood would have gummed up with sweet sentimentality and a hammy performance by an aging star like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman (and still probably will in the inevitable remake), and kept it real. The lives of Winfried and Ines unfold in verite style—I cannot recall a note of non-diegetic music, and Ade’s camera shows exactly what happens with no stylistic flourishes to cover the sometimes uncomfortable emotions.
By the doozy of a last-act gag, which asks a lot of Hüller, who delivers with confidence, Toni Erdmann has managed to keep us engaged in the drama of a family of two. You will not actually believe how much you enjoyed this film even after emerging from it three hours later, thinking it ended too soon.