Toni Erdmann, B
Rated R, 162 minutes
In German and English
I went into seeing the oddly charming, enjoyable new German comedy "Toni Erdmann" with a little reluctancy, even if it the front runner for this year Best Foreign Film Oscar.
After all, it's a 162-minute subtitled exploration of an estranged father-daughter relationship, and I wasn't sure what to expect, and I'll still say this: it's not for everyone. But it's still a funny, often bizarre, overlong yet compelling portrait of how families connect to each other.
A practical joking father named Winifred (Austrian actor Peter Simonischek) tries to reconnect with his hard working daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) by creating an outrageous alter ego named Toni Erdmann and posing as her CEO's life coach.
Directed and written by German filmmaker Maren Ade ("Everyone Else") is an intriguing and unconventional look at a father-daughter relationship, taken through some interesting, humorous situations, particularly when Simonischek's Winifred dons an awful wig and ugly teeth to be Erdmann, at first embarrassing his daughter until she goes along with it. It's brilliantly played by Simonischek and Huller, the latter of whom has some classic reactions upon seeing her father pop up in the strangest of places.
For what it is (and I can easily see an American version of this being made with the likes of Steve Carrell and Emily Blunt), it's much, much too long, and Ade could've easily trimmed "Erdmann's" slower, talkier second act by a good 30-40 minutes, but it's mixed with some delightful moments - the first time the strangely charming Toni Erdmann appears is a sight gag, until you adjust to it - and some compelling ones too that represent a father who just wants to get to know his daughter, yet often feels in the way.
I will say, "Toni Erdmann's" last act has a few of the weirdest but most things I've seen in cinema lately: a strangely touching (yet off key) version of Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All," a nude party with co-workers, and a giant Cousin It-esque costume, all of which may generate some form of laughter and tears. These folks have a strange way of connecting with each other, but in an odd way, it's also sort of touching to see father so involved, whether invited or not, in daughter's life.
The satisfying "Toni Erdmann" may be the longest subtitled comedy you have seen in awhile, but it also may be the most memorable and affecting too. It's certainly an acquired taste, but those who see it will enjoy it.