Sony Classic Pictures 162 Minutes R Reviewed January 27, 2017
Does this film live up to the hype as one of the funniest this year? Is it worthy of being seriously considered for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film? Yes it is.
Be patient. The film is well over 2 and a half hours, but doesn’t feel it at all. It begins slowly and leisurely as Director/Writer Karen Ade draws us into the lives of practical joking piano teacher, Winifred, and his hard-driving business consultant daughter, Ines. Sandra Hüller delivers one of the most fearless performances you will ever see. She runs through the gamut of emotions as her father shows up at the most crucial moments and puts her under unbelievable stress until she finally let’s loose in some of the most outrageous and funny scenes that had us howling.
What begins as a few chuckles in the theatre grow to full-on gasps, screams and belly laughs. It’s really satisfying to see how a well crafted script takes the audience on this subtle but wild ride.
This is a film that is an unusual and very amusing take on efforts to develop a good father/daughter relationship in today’s busy tech connected world. Pete Simonischek plays Winifred Conradi, but he also has an alter ego named Toni Erdmann who is a real trip! Simonischek also gives a subtle but forceful performance. This man refuses to give up trying to reconnect with his daughter who he believes is losing her sense of self, morality and personality in her over-the-top quest for professional advancement.
Winifred as Toni is a practical joker who slips in fake buck teeth when he transforms into his mischievous persona, wears KISS/JOKER style makeup and wears silly hats or goes for the unkempt look. He decides to stalk his daughter to see if he can figure out who she is and if she’s happy doing the high powered job she has. He asks personal questions of people he doesn’t know. He puts his daughter on the spot in front of her bosses. He makes others do things they wouldn’t normally do to get their attention or does childish things himself to get a reaction. So does she. Know that this film earns its R rating for nudity, but it’s not gratuitous.
Even though Ade uses a lot of close ups on the characters’ faces, it’s still unpredictable what they’re really thinking and how they’re going to react. That’s what makes this so fun. Winifred takes a month off to follow his daughter putting her in the most awkward situations to try to get some kind of response, positive or negative. With each encounter, always with the daughter drawing away and rejecting her father, the situations begin to become more and more outrageous and the laughs grow each time he takes to the next level.
This is not only a film about restarting a family relationship, but of self discovery as they go through a series of outrageous situations together. Family relationships are often love/hate and complicated. Theirs is no different, but Director Karen Ade makes this film hard not to watch to see what’s Winifred/Toni is going to do next. Chances are you might know a tragic clown who goes to great lengths like Toni and have empathy for that person. As funny as this film is, it is also touching. Sit back and enjoy a good adult comedy.