German comedy is worth its near-three-hour time
It is with rare confidence that I can say you have not seen a movie quite like “Toni Erdmann.”
Germany's entry in the 2017 Best Foreign Language Oscar category has deservedly racked up accolades, but it's also safe to say you might not expect a near-three-hour German film to be a comedy.
“Toni Erdmann” doesn't just defy the expectation that a comedy has to be short and punchy. It also shows that it can have rich, well-acted characters.
Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a near-retired music teacher who decides to pay a surprise visit to his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) in Bucharest.
While Ines isn't exactly “estranged,” it's clear the father and daughter have a strained relationship. Part of Winfried's motivation seems to be to bridge that gap.
Ines is a perpetually serious-minded businesswoman who is more focused on her upward mobility in the corporate world than finding much enjoyment in life. Her father, on the other hand, is a prank-minded goofball.
Enter “Toni Erdmann,” an alter-ego Winfried hatches thanks to a set of absurdly white false teeth. As Winfried looks to relieve some of the family tension via Toni, he creates more of his own.
Writer-director Maren Ade creates a sweet and funny tale here with a heart in some complex characters. The dissection of the father-daughter relationship has layers that take their time in unfolding — as you might expect given the runtime.
The skewering of the uptight corporate lifestyle is ripe for comedy here, and it's never more evident than in a pinnacle scene that is rightly being hailed as one of the most memorable (and funny) nude scenes in years.
The humor here is often dry and absurdist. The father's alter ego was in part inspired by Andy Kaufman, according to Ade, and there's a bit of Monty Python in the air at times.
But there are also dramatic underpinnings, and both lead actors are fantastic in the wide-ranging roles.
It's rare that Oscar gives comedies their due, and while “Toni Erdmann” isn't a typical one, it's worth the time investment.