For Reel

Toni Erdmann (2016)
February 12, 2017, 5:00 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Maren Ade
4.5 Stars
toni-erdmannAs the eponymous alter-ego of Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek)—a downtrodden father attempting to reconnect with (and perhaps bring humanity back to) his daughter (Sandra Hüller)—navigates corporate social gatherings, he finds himself oddly accepted. If he’s not taken at face value, at worst he’s seen as a joke that is not quite understood. Similarly, Toni Erdmann isn’t often laugh-out-loud funny in its early-goings. When Winfried arrives at a family function in Gene Simmons make-up, the absurdity of the image is dampened by the exasperated reactions he receives (evidently, those around him are sick of his style of humor). The beautiful thing about Toni Erdmann, however, and perhaps the greatest claim for the necessity of its length, is that the viewer feels both the film and Winfried himself winning them over as time passes. Perhaps its due to Hüller’s terrifically complex performance or simply a response to the climactic series of masterful comic set pieces, but more likely it is the resiliency of the goofy humor that wears down the viewer. Winfried’s false teeth and ridiculous wig becomes themselves acts of protest in the face of efficient corporate business practices. In his passive mockery of the world his daughter is invested in, Winfried reveals that her true humiliation doesn’t come through his insistent involvement in her life, but the corporate world she is a part of. As a narrative, Toni Erdmann is no different than the familiar trope of a person attempting to maintain a successful work/life balance. But as a comedy of estrangement, the film works because it is never mushy, and if the characters come to grand realizations, it’s more complex than the expected sense of renewed intimacy that comes through in the closing moments. In its resolution, Toni Erdmann is both sweet and defiantly opaque, staying true to its persistent tonal complexities.

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