Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann ★★★★½

Maren Ade’s ambitious, profoundly perceptive humanist comedy Toni Erdmann presents a step further from its simplistic premise that delivers a knockout hilarious triumph. This three-hour German comedy tells the story of a prankster dad who tries to loosen up his stiff, workaholic daughter. Why three hours if this simple scenario can be shorten into one and a half hour film? It turns out that Toni Erdmann is more complex than anyone might think. It trusts the audience to simply be with these lovable, flawed, and relatable human beings as their lives begin to evolve in mundane ways which they learn something new with each other.

Ines Conradi (played with such fearless verve by Sandra Huller) is a consultant residing in Bucharest as she tries to make a contract extension deal with an oil company. Her uphill climb on the corporate ladder is interrupted when her lonely dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek) comes and lives with her. Winfried is the audience conduit for us to see how her daughter maneuvers herself in a toxic, sexist, almost humiliating corporate workplace. This toxicity has shaped Ines in becoming a cold, 'just-business' type of a person with lack of empathy towards the people around her. And Winfried is her angel that hopefully changes this mindset and saves her from this toxic wasteland.

Above all the goofball scenarios and jokes that made Toni Erdmann a delight, one particular feat is Ade’s humanist, perceptive screenplay. The intergenerational divide between the characters are so on-point that every person around the world can relate and understand. More so, the inherent injustices of European capitalism on the working class raises a problematic scenario in which Ade subtly makes her case. Toni Erdmann mirrors the existential fears, and aspirations we have as human beings, and like the characters Ines and Winfried, we laugh at them because we see ourselves in them, and that’s what makes this film so genuine and moving.

German actress of the moment--Sandra Huller pulls off a risky, fearless performance as a woman helplessly trying to confirm in an unjust workplace. Huller completes this woman’s experience by having to let her come undone (tears, laughs, and all) before our eyes. That is why near the end where she tries to fit on the dress, she realized that it is not too late to give no shit about everyone—pure brilliant. Peter Simonischek is stunning as well, foiling perfectly with Huller’s determined performance. Simonischek is forgiving, empathetic, and a lovingly warm creature fit for this father-daughter mission.

The only thing that I have a qualm is the ending, which I like but it should have been more pointed and memorable. But hey, that Whitney showstopper and that nude scene for the ages all left me in stitches and made up for that slight ending it had. Overall, Toni Erdmann is smart, funny, and most of all humane. Sometimes a film just needs nothing but a fake teeth and a hairy headdress to make an impact.

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