When a synopsis promises: “A man who loves playing practical jokes visits his workaholic daughter in disguise as an eccentric life coach”, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching an episode of a mediocre sitcom rather than a critically acclaimed festival darling. Crucially, Toni Erdmann itself is both far stranger and far more profound than its plot suggests.
Peter Simonischek dominates the film from its first scene as Winfried Conradi, aka Toni Erdmann. He’s the kind of habitual prankster who can’t answer even a simple question without first attempting a dry joke; the kind of person who plays tricks on postmen involving mail bombs and handcuffs. On paper he sounds awful, but Simonischek has a shambling, smirking and strangely lovable presence that is irresistible.
His daughter Ines, with her high-powered business lifestyle, doesn’t agree so much, especially when he gatecrashes a crucial deal like a German Jeremy Beadle. Played with great naturalism by Sandra Hüller, she is a complex creation, increasingly aware of how much her corporate lifestyle has jeopardised her happiness.
Toni Erdmann’s greatest gift is its liberating call to have more fun and think about work less. It’s a lesson we could all do with following. It’s summed up by the sublime moment Ines sings Whitney Houston’s ‘Greatest Love of All’ at a stranger’s party. The song prompts both laughter and tears as Ines embraces her father’s attitudes with a hilariously ramshackle rendition, while the lyrics themselves remind her that her father is going to such bizarre lengths just to make her happy.
It would be a shame to spoil one concluding sequence, but suffice to say it’s probably one of the funniest things committed to film this century. Toni Erdmann is relentlessly hilarious while offering the kind of wisdom and emotion you rarely find in comedy.
CAST: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter
DIRECTOR: Maren Ade
WRITER: Maren Ade
SYNOPSIS: A man who loves playing practical jokes visits his workaholic daughter in disguise as an eccentric life coach.