TONI ERDMANN (Germany | Austria/TBC/162mins)
Directed by Maren Ade. Starring Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter.
THE PLOT: Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is a man who loves a practical joke; painting his face, putting in false teeth and convincing the postman that he is his own twin brother; a man named Toni Erdmann. When Winifried’s daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) returns home from Bucharest – where she lives for work – a quietly observed moment makes Winifried realise how little he knows his daughter, so he sets out to try to reconnect with her the only way he knows how; with his alter ego Toni Erdmann.
THE VERDICT: ‘Toni Erdmann’ is one of five films at the Cannes Film Festival this year that are over 2 and a half hours long, and although the story has a powerful message and a rather silly but engaging story at its heart, this is swallowed up by the 162 minute – count ‘em! – running time.
Peter Simonischek easily carries his portion of the film as a lonely man whose family feel further away from him than they ever have. Simonischek permeates his performance with a sense of loneliness, which is palpable at times, but manages to make the character playful, meaning his transforming into his alter ego Toni Erdmann is believable if a little far fetched. Sandra Hüller makes Ines tightly wound and impatient for much of the film, although it is never truly clear why she goes along with her Dad’s pretence that he is someone else – for the sake of a quiet life, perhaps – but she is also capable of carrying the time she is given, even if she and Simonischek are let down by a meandering, bloated script. The rest of the cast features Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russel and Ingrid Bisu in smaller roles.
Writer / director Maren Ade manages to make the characters likeable in her screenplay for the film, with the dialogue often painfully honest, but she does not seem to know when less is more, since the film meanders through its first hour, and it is not until the focus of the film switches and Ines becomes the protagonist that things become interesting. Even then, the screenplay is not tight enough to maintain the action, with scenes often going on far too long, scenes and subplots that could have been cut for the sake of emphasising emotion, and the transition that Ines goes through seemingly coming from nowhere, as she changes her clothes.
As director, Maren Ade gets strong performances from her entire cast – none more so than the two leads – but badly lets them down with meandering pacing and a bloated running time. Making ‘Toni Erdmann’ a film of 100 minutes would have made for a stronger emotional engagement, more laughs – although the Cannes audience seemed to have a great time, on the whole – and a clear narrative arc throughout the film.
In all, ‘Toni Erdmann’ would have been a wonderful film if it was an hour shorter. As it stands, Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller are wonderful in their roles, but the film around them is bloated, meandering and feels rather self indulgent.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Toni Erdmann
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.5Bloated
  • Melissa

    Love science fiction, love Toni Erdmann (the book – and the movie was OK) Production design is impecable, but the script is pretty dizzling. I was astonished through it, as it has a lot of noise, fights, gunshots and sex scenes. Kremerman is simply care (or relate) to those characters.

  • filmbuff2011

    While Germany has contributed some of the finest films ever made like Metropolis and Das Boot, it’s not known for making great comedies. That’s about to change though with the Oscar-nominated Toni Erdmann. It could be the funniest film of the year – in any language.

    Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a practical joker who likes to dress up in disguises and make politically incorrect jokes about mail bombs and offing old people. He hardly ever sees his daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) though. She now lives in Bucharest, where she’s a hard-working businesswoman who doesn’t have much of a life outside of her job. When Ines comes to visit Winfried, he dresses up as his alter ego Toni Erdmann. She bats him away as the father who is always trying to embarrass her. When she returns to Bucharest, he secretly follows her and soon enough makes his presence known as Toni Erdmann around her business clients and her CEO Gerald (Thomas Loibl). He then tries to pose as a life coach for Gerald, much to Gerald’s bewilderment. Ines tolerates his practical jokes and strange behaviour at drinks receptions and other work-related events. In reality, she’s a rather glum soul who has meaningless sex with a local Romanian lover and doesn’t know how to enjoy life. On the road together, Winfried and Ines start to bond as they rediscover their father-daughter relationship…

    Toni Erdmann may seem like an initially tricky prospect to any cinemagoer – a 162-minute comedy from a country that hasn’t produced any truly great comedies (though two decent Daniel Bruhl films spring to mind – Goodbye Lenin and The Edukators). However, Toni Erdmann sets out its stall in the hilarious opening scene. Much hilarity ensues after that, involving awkward embassy encounters, a fancy cheese grater, a Bulgarian costume that looks like Chewbacca’s long-necked cousin and a naked party which sees Ines finally shed that ice-cool exterior and have some fun. The latter is the highlight of the film, transcending any weirdness to just become a team bonding exercise where there are no hidden agendas (literally).

    Writer/director Maren Ade isn’t just interested in the laughs though, however low-brow they are. Her script is so well-written that it becomes a beautiful father-daughter character piece, contrasting the slyly mischievous and comedic Winfried against the tightly-wound and work-obsessed Ines. Their later moments of bonding feel earned and starkly honest. Both are lonely in their own ways and all they have in this world is each other now. That offbeat, tragi-comic sense of German humour is what makes the film so damn enjoyable. It would be a hard heart indeed not to be moved by the film and what it’s trying to say about the importance of family. Whereas some parents can be be embarrassing to their adult children, Toni Erdmann is a film that revels in it without it being cringeworthy.

    Yes, it’s a long film but that’s not really a complaint. This reviewer agrees with Danny Leigh and Peter Bradshaw on Film 2017 recently – the length feels justified and the film isn’t bloated. Any extra time with these characters is welcome. Unlike, say, another film that debuted at Cannes 2016 and is of the same length – the meandering American Honey. Toni Erdmann is wunderbar. ****