Review: Toni Erdmann is funny and tender

Directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade, Toni Erdmann tells the story of Winfried (Peter Simonischek), an ageing teacher who feels at a loss after the death of his old dog. He decides to pay his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) a visit in Bucharest, where she works as a corporate strategist. His love of practical jokes and silliness don’t go down well with his stressed, serious daughter and the two soon realise that spending prolonged time together isn’t going to work. After just a couple of days, he heads home to Germany. Or so it seems.

The next day, weird and flashy “Toni Erdmann” turns up in Ines’ life. Wearing a misfitting wig, fake teeth and a suit which looks like it would go up in flames if it went within ten metres of a match, Erdmann claims to be Ines’ CEO’s life coach, even though he is clearly just her Dad in a shit wig. What follows are a crazy few days.

This is a genuinely funny film. It garners its laughs from its strangeness, its awkwardness, its silliness and its surreality. It doesn’t feel as long as its hefty 162-minute running time either. The characters certainly don’t outstay their welcome. In fact, you grow to like them more and more as the narrative unfolds. At first, Toni/Winfried is quite annoying, as he imposes himself on his daughter’s busy life, while Ines is painfully uncharismatic. It’s hard to feel much empathy for either of them. However, as they spend more time with each other, they grow increasingly likeable. By the end of the film, you really care about their relationship. Through Toni, Winfried shows just how much he cares for his daughter’s wellbeing and, in turn, Ines reluctantly starts to loosen up. Her impromptu, embarrassed rendition of Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All is a magnificent example of this. Meanwhile, her “naked party” is a good illustration of how much of this film’s humour is derived from the juxtaposition of surreal situations and the paired back awkwardness and seriousness of its characters. This awkwardness though, is tinged with a lovely warmth.

Toni Erdmann is a truly eccentric, funny story which deals with life, death, love and family in a thoughtful and tender way. It is entirely worthy of its Oscar and BAFTA nominations.

Toni Erdmann will be in cinemas from February 9th.

bobby townsend


Review by Bobby Townsend.