At this point what more can be said about Maren Ade’s sensational comedy Toni Erdmann? Ever since it debuted at Cannes, the film has been a hit on the festival circuit and it is easy to see why. Few films capture the awkwardness of family in such a hilarious, and at times absurd, way like Ade’s film does.
Winfried (Peter Simonischek) loves to play practical jokes on anyone who crosses his path. Regardless of the situation, he always has his fake teeth ready to jump into one of his many characters if it will get a laugh. Unfortunately, there is one person who is not fond of his brand of humour, his estranged daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller). A high-ranking consultant for a company in Bucharest, Ines tries her best to limit her interaction with her father. Agreeing to let her father visit for a weekend, Ines does her best to deal with her father’s relentless antics. However, when Winfried secretly decides to not only stay in Bucharest longer, but promptly inject himself into her professional life. A decision that ultimately kicks into high gear the clash between father and daughter.
It is hard to think of another director who could pull of such a feat as the one Maren Ade achieves with this film. Ade has the tough task of balancing the numerous comedic beats with the somber drama of the father/daughter conflict. She manages to navigate a script that goes in so many different directions, but ultimately feel cohesive by the end. While it is tempting to divulge some of the numerous gags in the film, it is best if one goes into the film cold-don’t even bother giving the trailer a look. All you need to know is that there are big laughs, and touching dramatic moments, that will stay with you.
Aside from Ade’s exceptional direction, credit must also go to Simonischek and Hüller who really give it their all in the film. Their chemistry feels real, painfully awkward but authentic nonetheless, and they successfully make the time fly by in this overly long film. A perfect example of this is the riveting scene at a nightclub where Winfried must silently watch Ines go down one of her many self-destructive paths. It is a absolutely heart-wrenching moment made even more powerful by some of the comedic moments that follow it later in the film.
Truth be told, despite is lengthy running time, it is hard to find a sequence to cut. The film is so tightly crafted that every gag and emotional outburst serves a purpose. Destined to be a classic, Toni Erdmann is one of the must-see comedies of the year.
This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2016 coverage. The film will be released in Toronto on Friday