Starring Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller
At some point we have all met that person, that individual who refuses to be serious, continuously makes jokes, and is a constant prankster. German filmmaker Maren Ade takes that character and puts him in everyday situations where the people he interacts with don’t know whether he is serious or insane. In her original screenplay, Toni Erdmann, Ade taps into a psychological and emotional exploration of comedy and the ridiculous in a professional environment. It didn’t take very long to understand her inspiration was derivative of Andy Kaufman antics, pulled throughout his life and featured in Milos Foreman’s Man on the Moon.
Winfried Conradi (Simonischek) constantly tries to scare friends and family with a painted face, false teeth or bizarre wardrobe. Following the passing of his life long pet, the widowed father surprises daughter Ines (Hüller) in Romania. Trying to broker a sensitive deal between two large companies looking to lay off employees, her consulting firm depends on her serious and calculated working methods to seal the deal. In comes dear old dad with a long shaggy wig, an ill fitted vintage suit and the fake teeth causing a stir around her office. He doesn’t stop there, he pops up when she is out with friends, business functions, creating an entirely new persona for himself named Toni Erdmann. He eventually drives his daughter to madness as she loses a grip on her credibility.
The comedy and awkward situations are supposed to provide some modicum of humor and that didn’t translate for me at all.
In the first of nearly three hours, of outlandish behavior, the audience might wonder if Winfried is mentally incompetent, ignorant, or just so board with his life that he uses these comedic interventions to humor himself. The irony that Ines is the complete opposite, makes for many uncomfortable exchanges. Most of the time she hasn’t a clue what she is talking about in business meetings, even fakes phone calls to look important. Ade continues this opposition for the films duration, giving us one awkward scenario after another. “Do you have any goals in life besides sitting on fart cushions,” she asks at one point. Toni Erdmann as a film seems keen on surprising the audience much like the character likes surprising strangers, the final act of an all nude business party takes the cake.
The most honest scene in the film occurs when Ines oversleeps and her father allows her sleep into late morning, waking her up meowing with cat whispers and funky sunglasses. She wakes in a fix, blaming him for allowing her to sleep to late. We realize this is her fault, and she could have easily set her alarm. Her anger however comes from the fact that her father never acts parental, or responsible. A normal person would have woken her, knowing she had business to attend to and was late for work. Besides the demanding running time, Toni Erdmann isn’t funny, I didn’t laugh once, and I think the comedy and awkward situations are supposed to provide some modicum of humor and that didn’t translate for me at all.
A fragmented attempt at unusual humor that results in nothing more than a cinematic waste of time.