German Joker

Toni Erdmann is all right but doesn’t match the hype

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Toni Erdmann
RPL Film Theatre
March 30 – April 2

The Cannes sensation Toni Erdmann has already been celebrated as one of the comedic achievements of the decade, even making its way into the Academy Awards. An American remake starring Jack Nicholson has already been greenlit.

Guess what. It’s overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, Toni Erdmann is far from a bad movie, but the 160-minute-long German comedy doesn’t deserve such unrestrained praise. The absurdist humor is effective but hardly groundbreaking (Mika Kaurismäki has been doing the same for 35 years). The one edge Toni Erdmann has over similar endeavors is that it keeps a foot on reality at all times.

Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a music teacher and incorrigible joker, tries to reconnect with his depressed (but unaware of it) daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), a serious businesswoman on assignment in Romania.

The prankster initially fails in his mission so Winfred brings out the big guns — namely his alter ego, Toni Erdmann. The creation is an obnoxious bore but at least gets a reaction from Ines. This leads to an escalating battle of benevolent outlandishness.

The deadpan comedy of Toni Erdmann is pleasant, even sharp at times, but the length is ridiculous. There’s no sense of economy of language. The film disparages European corporations that favour efficiency and rules over people (Ines teaches companies how to downsize without inspiring revolts), but as social critiques go it’s very basic.

I could be missing something, but it wasn’t the transformative experience I was promised. ❧