This comedy from German writer/director Maren Ade has been both highly praised by many critics when seen at festivals and nominated for a plethora of awards including a BAFTA and an Oscar. And it has won some of them.
The story concerns Winfried (Simonischek) and his grown up daughter Ines (Hüller). Winfried loves playing practical jokes, which usually involve him donning silly costumes and wearing fake joke teeth. As we later gather, Ines as a child loved her father’s playfulness. Now as an adult with a responsible job as an international corporate strategist she just finds his jokes embarrassing. So she’s none too pleased when Winfried decides to visit her in Bucharest, where she is working and shows up at an important reception, where she is aiming to impress her boss. His behaviour at the event along with his criticism of her work orientated lifestyle results in a falling out between father and daughter and Winfried goes home to Germany. Undeterred however he then returns to Romania pretending to be Ines’s life coach, the Toni Erdmann of the title, dressed in a gross suit, a most unconvincing wig reminiscent of a 70s rock star and those inevitable (and not very funny) joke teeth. He doesn’t fool Ines – just embarrasses her again – but some reason several of her colleagues swallow the impersonation.
While there are scenes of high comedy in this movie – one highlight being a party Ines gives where the costume is unusual to say the least – much of the humour relies on Winfried’s antics as Toni – antics which some audience members, including me, may like Ines find merely irritating. If you like practical jokes however, you should be rolling in the aisles. Though at a running length of nearly two and a half hours, the joke certainly wears more than somewhat thin. The underlying serious theme of the film, being the estrangement between father and daughter, is sometimes touching, at other times veering on the sentimental.
More interesting is the subtext of the story in its Romanian setting. The purpose of the organisation Ines works for, like the one George Clooney’s character did in “Up in the Air”, is to streamline a company, which basically means getting it taken over by a large corporation and sacking most the workers. With the invasion of such capitalist sophistication from other EC countries, it’s no wonder so many Romanians decided to head for the UK. Another thing that stands out is that the common language used by the characters from all over the Europe Community we are about to leave is English. I wonder if that will change with Brexit?