A film of the globalized world, Toni Erdmann connects with the simple truths that occur in modern society. Consultant Ines (Sandra Hüller) is the “modern” woman who prioritizes her career over socializing. Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is the old man who puts humanity above corporations and jokes above seriousness. Despite being father and daughter, they couldn’t be more different. So, on a spontaneous trip to visit Ines in Romania, Winfried puts on a disguise and pretends to be life coach/German ambassador, Toni Erdmann. And hilarity ensues.
Splitting its dialogue between English, German, and Romanian, you never get the sensation of being completely lost in its cinematic world. Each country and language is treated less as a foreign local and more as a part of a larger world. Director Maren Ade does a fantastic job showing the loneliness of Ines and Winfried, creating dueling sympathies with both characters in a masterstroke of writing. Being introduced to Winfried and his world first substantially helps, as he is the most difficult character in the film. His tendency for jokes regardless of the situation is the crux of both Ines’s character arc and the emotional core of the film. Peter Simonischek (Gebürtig) does an amazing job as Winfried and it’s through his nuanced performance of an old dog who doesn’t want to lose his only daughter that Toni Erdmann gets it’s heart.
Ultimately, the main downside to Toni Erdmann is its lengthy runtime. It never loses a beat and you truly get a feel for both characters, but the film is definitely an epic tale on a small scale. Sandra Hüller (Brownian Movement) gives a fantastically layered performance as Ines, giving her the bite that the corporate world needs, while also showing the heart and humor that is her inheritance. As she deals with her slightly insane father, she balances the biggest moment of her career, which thrives on the emotionless state Ines lives in. Hüller basically becomes a different person as Ines warms up, much like Simonischek completely transforms out of the gimmicky wig and terrible false teeth.
Toni Erdmann is the official selection of Germany for the Academy Awards this year. Considering it’s rave reviews at Cannes and the New York Film Festival, it’s definitely the film to beat. With it’s mix of comedy and heartfelt, bittersweet sadness, Toni Erdmann is one of the best films this year and a good foreshadowing of the upcoming awards season.