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Movie Review: Toni Erdmann


Toni Erdmann is an unconventional comedy drama written and directed by Maren Ade, portraying a father desperately trying to patch things up with his estranged daughter. A practical joker with a fake teeth and wig disguise that recalls early Leon Schuster pranks, Winfried tries to reconnect with his hard-working daughter, Ines, by resorting to his outrageous alter ego, Toni Erdmann. From retired "slacker" to business coach, Winfried's attempts to win his daughter over go from nuisance to social time bomb as he associates with her colleagues and becomes more entrenched in her working life.

For the most part, this German language coming-of-age drama is a two-hander, focusing on the fractious relationship between the father and daughter. By means of a fly-on-the-wall account, we experience the amusement, history, irritation and uneasiness of the familial bond, as Winfried arrives unexpectedly in Romania, where Ines is brokering an important business deal with a big client. Part serious about being married to her job, part wanting to let go and burst out laughing at her father's bold and incredibly silly interactions as Toni Erdmann, we experience several layers of dysfunction in this candid dramedy.

Toni Erdmann 2016

"My people will contact your people."

Like a German version of About Schmidt, we journey with the pairing as the complete opposites learn from each other and try to find a way to repatriate. It's a heartwarming, silly and fun-loving film, which moves from stupid pranks to outrageous and daring social experiments. Spending more time with family, not working so hard or taking life less seriously seem like lifelong goals, yet serve as the underlying message in this touching albeit ridiculous comedy drama.

Peter Simonischek is reminiscent of Gerard Depardieu in terms of his physical presence and clownish demeanour, delivering a delightful and easy-going performance. Sandra Hüller's tightly-wound turn completes the comic duo as she serves up a complicated mix of amusement and irritation with her unorthodox yet persistent father. At 2 1/2 hours, it does seem long, but remains entertaining by virtue of its voyeuristic docudrama style, warm natural flow of comedy, undercover travelogue and heartfelt family drama.

While there's nudity and one unusual sexual encounter, Toni Erdmann has a playful tone and operates like a bag of tricks, constantly surprising one with its low-key blend of authentic drama and silly comedy. The chemistry and performances from Simonischek and Hüller make it seem so, and much like a cabaret, it's a delight to see what they'll throw at us next. While it's not on par with About Schmidt, it remains a memorable, quirky and entertaining father-daughter portrait.

The bottom line: Enjoyable