Director: Maren Ade
Sony Pictures Classics
In theaters: 02.17
Imagine that your dad’s following you the whole way through an important business trip, playing an extended practical joke. Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann depicts Ines (Sandra Hüller) in Romania on an important business stay. Once her father, Winfried’s (Peter Simonischek) old dog dies, he pays her a surprise visit in Bucharest. Winfried manages to get on her nerves and irk the a CEO business partner with his deadpan dad humor. She’s relieved to see him leave so she can go about her business, but Winfried transforms into Toni Erdmann, and Ines must break through her stressed-out shell to discover what truly makes living remarkable.
Toni Erdmann breaches the bizarre with this funny father-daughter story. Both Hüller and Simonischek deliver spot-on, endearing performances. Ines’ mundane life as a businesswoman renders her a distant, nervous wreck, and subsequently, Winfried’s understated commitment to his jokes provides laughs amid a rigid emotional architecture. Hüller deftly fills out Ines’ character beyond her archetype, too—she decompresses with girlfriends and pronounces the underwhelming state of affairs with her Romanian fling.
The film is not without its flaws. Its total runtime is two hours and 48 minutes, and there are scenes from Ines’ work life that feel unnecessarily prolonged. One-third of the way into Toni Erdmann is where the film noticeably drags. Fortunately, Toni Erdmann reignites the momentum and imparts warmth to counter some of the corporate sterility, and helps Ines find little joys to punctuate her routine. (Also watch for an amazing kukeri costume.) Overall, Toni Erdmann succeeds with a narrative that conveys a simple but resonant theme—that we must inspirit each moment.