Toni Erdmann

February 19, 2017 at 10:04 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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I have to admit that the idea of an almost 3-hour long, German comedy does not sound like much of sell to me. And I would not have bothered to see this one, except that it has shown up on several critics’ “Best of the Year” list and it has been repeatedly sold out at my local theater. I honestly cannot remember the last time I wanted to see a film and it was sold out, yet this happened to me twice with this film– once on a Saturday night and again, a week later, at a Sunday matinee. In fact, it was sold out again last night but we had gotten our tickets in advance this time. So, as you can imagine, expectations were high. Too high, as it turned out. It’s hard not to wonder how much of the humor of this film was lost in translation but I just found it more dull/weird/awkward than funny. Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a corporate consultant trying desperately to make her mark by securing the business of an important client in Bucharest, where she is currently living. Her father (Peter Simonischek) pays her a surprise visit from Germany and is concerned about how serious and uptight she has become. So, he adopts the alter-ego of Toni Erdmann to try and bring some levity back into her life and (of course) ends up creating chaos. Well, that all sounds like exactly the stuff of a zany comedy and you can all imagine exactly how it would play out… but that isn’t what happens. Instead, we get endless scenes of the father acting inexplicably bizarrely, making his daughter and others around her (and me) quite uncomfortable. Ines reacts to all of this in equally inexplicable ways that may be symbolizing that she is becoming more relaxed? Or, perhaps, just coming undone? Who knows. And then, after an almost interminable amount of time, the film ends on an ambiguous and melancholy note. Director, Maren Ade, is clearly trying to say some complex things about how we currently live our lives but that message felt very garbled to me. All the humor that I caught was of the slapstick variety (and there was plenty of that), but I can’t help but wonder if there was wordplay, cultural references or other more subtle humor that I was missing. The final moments of that final scene felt like they were trying to be sadly ironic to me: the father tells his daughter how important it is to live in each moment. Then, when she gets suddenly playful, he runs off to get his camera and misses the rest of that moment. That sort of melancholy seems to lace this whole film. It makes for a strange tone in what otherwise feels like a slapstick comedy. I can appreciate that this film was doing something deeper, I just didn’t get it.

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