Toni Erdmann (2016) by Maren Ade
Review by Jessica Carr
The night I came home after watching Toni Erdmann my mom asked me a very interesting question. Out of the blue she asked, “Are you happy with your life?” I was kind of taken aback because she never really asked me that question before. She would ask me if I was happy or if I was okay, but never did she venture into an overarching question about life.
Ironically in my head I had already started to ponder this question after watching Toni Erdmann. German writer/director Maren Ade creates a film that explores father-daughter relationships, the meaning of life and depression all while creating a comedic experience that had me laughing until my sides ached.
The film follows practical joker Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) as he tries to reconnect with his daughter turned businesswoman Ines (Sandra Hüller). She comes back home to visit her separated parents, but is constantly on the phone. Ines leaves town without ever really spending any quality time with her father. After Winfried’s beloved dog dies, something in him changes. He decides to fly to Bucharest and surprise his daughter. He shows up at her workplace wearing false teeth and tries to blend in with her colleagues. Ines knows it’s her father and tells her assistant to deal with him while she is at work. Eventually Ines takes her father with her to a reception and he gets to see what her world is like. After a few days and one cheese grater later, Winfried says goodbye to his daughter. For the rest of the film, Winfried starts popping up everywhere Ines is as his alter ego Toni Erdmann.
Maren Ade has written a nearly perfect screenplay with incredible character depth. Although the runtime is 2 hours and 45 minutes, I loved every second of it. The length is necessary to create an emotional connection with the characters. Honestly, I would’ve been totally fine with an even longer movie. Ade makes Winfried/Toni such a loving character that you can’t help but root for him. Even though Ines is an Ice Queen, her character is very sympathetic as well. She has to work harder than any of the men at her job because as a woman she is at a disadvantage. She has to be a hard-ass if she wants to be successful as a corporate strategist. If she doesn’t stand her ground, then she will be eaten alive in the corporate world. At one point in the film, her client asks her to take his wife shopping. At another point her boss tells her it’s her job to build team morale. These are things that a man would not have to worry about doing. A certain hotel scene featuring Petit Fours will show you how power hungry Ines becomes. This work environment conditions Ines to be aggressive and ultimately leaves her depressed with her job. Her father becomes sort of a life coach. He asks her if she is happy. Does she enjoy her life there? It becomes Winfried’s mission to show his daughter that she can’t lose her sense of humor.
There are funny scenes all throughout the film, but things don’t really start getting into gut-busting range until Toni Erdmann starts making regular appearances complete with fake teeth, lady’s wig and sometimes even a cheese grater (you’ll see). He even comes prepared with business cards and engages with the business people like he is one of them. Eventually Ines starts to enjoy her father’s company at business excursions and she learns to loosen up a little. I’d say the last 30 minutes of the film wrap everything up nicely and left me wanting to watch the film again and again.
Now, reluctantly, I have to address the fact that they are making an American remake of this film and how it utterly pisses me off. I am skeptical that an American translation would be even remotely as successful. Jack Nicholson has already been cast as Winfried/Toni and Kristen Wiig is being discussed for the role of Ines. Ade is co-producing, but is not directing the remake. Sadly, I will remain opposed until I can see the remake for myself.
To me, Toni Erdmann is a phenomenal film. It depicts a realistic father-daughter relationship especially when both parties are dealing with a depressive mental state. Ines and Winfried need each other at this point in their lives and they both come to that realization with brilliant doses of humor involved. Ade writes a simple story that is propelled by fascinating themes and characters that remain incredibly relatable.
After a brief pause, I did eventually answer my mom. I told her that I was happy in this moment and not to worry about me. If I ever stop writing “butt paste” on the grocery list, then maybe you should start to worry.