When I finished my viewing of the German film Toni Erdmann at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I knew I couldn’t wait for it to be released. If you’re just looking at the synopsis, which I’m about to give in a second, this seems like a story we have seen before in some shape or form. This could be something to mislead you because, without a doubt, Toni Erdmann is one of the most unpredictable comedies I have ever seen, going to completely unexpected areas and veering in very dark and very emotional directions too. It is entirely possible that writer and director Maren Ade has made this year’s best foreign film at the Oscars.
The film is, for the most part, about Winfried Conradi, a divorced music teacher who lives on his own with his old dog and loves to constantly prank all who are around him. When his dog passes away of natural causes, his grief leads him to go to Bucharest, Romania where his workaholic daughter Ines is living, pursuing a high-level position in the oil industry as a consultant. When it is obvious that Ines is completely unenthused with Winfried’s presence there, he leaves only to return as an alter ego with fake teeth and a black wig as Toni Erdmann, a business life coach. He then proceeds to butt into her work and personal relationships, causing her life to get into a bit of an evolving turmoil.
Do some elements of this film seem familiar, as I stated in my opening? Well, that is about as much as you’re going to get because Toni Erdmann always hits you off guard. The humor is so true to life in its hilarity, of a man just trying to reconnect with his little girl on a level of jokes that the two used to share. Ines, on the flip side, seems to be trying to become a different person because she feels it will have a profound effect on her climbing the corporate ladder. As universal as family estrangement is and the struggle to recapture a feeling is in films, the third act of Toni Erdmann is so insane that I defy someone to tell me that they saw it coming.
Maren Ade’s originality in her film is unlike any I have ever experienced, going to levels of physical, emotional and situational comedy that it quickly rocketed to the top of my best of 2016 list. Clocking in at over two and a half hours long, it is a movie that betrays that usual butt-numbing length, as I never noticed it. I was completely locked into the story the entire time and adored the journey of these two relatable but damaged characters at important times in their lives. Mostly, at the end, I felt at a loss for not knowing who Ade was before this because if she can churn out brilliant and true human comedies like this then she is a filmmaker we should all be paying attention to. Go see Toni Erdmann now and be sure to thank me in person or in the comment section afterward! 5/5