Comedy Oddities: Toni Erdmann

toni erdmann index
If you watched Toni Erdmann without knowing anything about the film and considered it to be a drama with the occasional humourous moment it’s possible you might find it worthy of your time. Unfortunately that didn’t apply with me, I was well aware of the great acclaim it received and the quotes on the poster mis-sell it completely, with critics claiming “It’s absolutely nuts!”, “Achingly funny, utterly surprising” and “A humane hilarious triumph”. But it’s not “nuts” at all, or “Hilarious” either, it’s just a gentle fairly predictable film which is funny in about three scenes but the rest of the time it’s deliberately maudlin material.

Unlike a lot of the reviews on imdb which seem to hate the film with a passion it’s not actually a bad movie, most of the time it’s fairly likeable and the concept is intriguing, but at two hours and forty two minutes it’s undoubtedly overlong and takes far too long to get going. While watching it I found myself being interested in one scene but then finding the next completely pointless, and there’s a good few which offer nothing at all except the knowledge that every day life contains plenty of monotonous moments and I don’t think that’s a revelation that will shock anyone. The main thrust of the film sees Winfried (Peter Simonischek), an eccentric teacher, visit his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) in Romania where she’s currently working, but the bond between the two is shaky and she’s relieved when he leaves. But he wants to repair their relationship and so reinvents himself as the life coach Toni Erdmann and inserts himself in to her life. Initially horrified she grows fond of the crazy old fella, and in the end they make passionate love. Or hug a bit, at least, which is another thing the poster gives away and so spoils the effect of the moment.

Though involving the first hour isn’t exactly the stuff of hilarity, the strained relationship between father and daughter is initially interesting but only one moment made me actually laugh and too many made me bored. It’s quite melancholic in places as well, Winfried’s dog dies early on and Ines is in tears when her father initially seems to leave, it has the most miserable cocaine fulled scene in a nightclub ever committed to celluloid and despite clearly being a kickass business woman Ines doesn’t get the respect she deserves from her colleagues. The latter is at least an important plot point and something the film briefly touches on, but it’s a shame that it wasn’t dealt with in greater detail rather than concentrating on the un-wacky adventures of Winfried. Returning to the quote in the first paragraph where a critic claims “It’s absolutely nuts!” I truly can’t understand why someone would say such a thing (unless they’d only ever seen those terrible Adam Sandler films Netflix keep making) as though Winfried is slightly eccentric he doesn’t really do anything that absurd. There is one odd scene towards the end of the movie which involves a lot of nudity, and while that raised a smile it didn’t do anything more than that.

A couple of things don’t make any real sense either, for instance Ines is initially horrified by her father’s reappearance in her life as Toni but incredibly quickly becomes fond of him for reasons which aren’t ever explained, and it feels completely out of character given everything that’s happened before. And towards the end there’s a jarring lurch from one country to another which confuses and is an example of poor film making, it feels like the director suddenly realised they needed to wrap things up so quickly wrote out a final scene which resolves certain aspects of the plot in very pat way. None of this would be a particular problem if the film had profound things to say, as some critics claim it does, but apart from a central message of not taking life too seriously, and to recognise the important moments in life if at all possible, it doesn’t, and both of these aren’t exactly original sentiments which haven’t been expressed before.

It’s a shame as there are aspects of the film which do work, the fragile bond between father and daughter is involving in places as are the brief occasions we get an insight in to life in Romania, and the performances are incredibly strong. But ultimately it’s a bland piece which should be at least an hour shorter if it were to have any real impact, and the film needed to have more to say than it actually does if it were to deserve all of the acclaim that’s been heaped upon it.

Alex Finch.

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