Sportello: 9/10 | IMDB: 8.2/10 | MetaCritic: 94/100 | Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Winfried Conradi / Toni Erdmann’s is believed to be loosely based on Maren Ade’s father who apparently likes to put in fake teeth to joke with people. The film is a comical study of how a father figure has an incredible power to truly embarrass us, while projecting a sense of attachment and warmth. Wholeheartedly performed by Peter Simonischek, it is Toni that projects a character played with such empathy that it mirrors our our own fathers at times. Peter’s character transcends the unconditional feelings of fatherly love fueled by the hardships of life. The realization of those feelings however, just like in life, usually comes through loss or distance. This is in turn portrayed in a unique, subtle brilliance by Sandra Huller, who’s character Ines is relatable in a modern kind of way. She seems foolishly ambitious and self-preserved at times, yet fueled by all the right motivations.
When Winfried’s beloved dog passes away, it pushes him to reconnect with Ines, who’s corporate career has taken her to Bucharest, far away from his house in Germany. Winfried, who takes a fictional, comical, character of Toni Erdmann during public appearances, uses warm humor and shameless persistence to try and bond with his daughter. Simonischek has managed to project such effortless depth in Toni that while he seems shallow on the outside, his actions stem from a desire that many will deeply understand. No matter how surreal or absurd Toni’s actions might sometime be, this gives them a more profound meaning.
In one of the first sudden appearances, Toni shows up at at a night club where Ines’ is trying to lure in a CEO to help her company close a big contract. The CEO ends up making fun of harmless comments Toni made about ‘hiring a replacement daughter for Ines’, making the table condescendingly laugh. Toni replies simply by saying how proud he is of his daughter, while awkwardly smiling back with his infamous fake teeth.
Ines is outraged to see Winfried invade her private life and most importantly her work. “I know so many people your age that are so much more ambitious” , – she says angrily during one of their conversations. There are some things a child should never do or say to their parents, things that could hurt them. Sandra Huller intricately portrays Ines in a way that it never seems that she could really ‘cross that line’, no matter what Winfried will do. During just one of the scenes She cries, while watching Winfried get in a taxi going back to his hotel.
At almost 3 hours long, ‘Toni Erdmann’ doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. It is full of incredibly original scenes and dialogues that give us a funny sense of the absurdity with which our parents seem to have an everlasting hold on us, regardless of the age. The film has a profound sadness in it’s message, while overlaying it with dark, remarkable humor. I fear to overstate the ‘relatable’ aspect of the film’s humor, to say the least, not everybody will find it funny.
Ade’s craft however lies precisely in not giving us the straightforward, sentimental fatherly story that essentially is the story of Ines’ relationship with Toni, but in doing the exact opposite. Her work is original, It’s metaphorical in a sense that is truly open to interpretation. My guess is that opinions on this film will vary drastically depending on one’s relationships with their fathers. Maren is evidently someone that has gone through those experiences, while not being afraid to use humor and ‘mockery’ as a thread to relay them. Yet something that is truly universal about ‘Toni Erdmann’ is it’s ability to make us miss our family while somehow understanding what they feel on a deeper level.
Some will undoubtedly argue whether Winfried Conradi was a real character in this film. While it might be true, It makes no impact on the plot or the outcomes, just on our understanding of certain events. What matters is that in the end, Ines’ was happy to share those moments with Winfried. She will never forget that time they passionately performed a rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘The Greatest Love of All’ or Him, as she inherits his stupid fake teeth and a top hat, which she will undoubtedly use to torture her own children someday. It is an accomplishment of an incredible, self-assertive depth to make the audience ponder about the true meaning of life and family, while making them smile at the same time.