Review – Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann Poster

Fresh off an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film, Toni Erdmann hails from Germany and is expanding in select theaters this weekend.

A German comedy drama, Toni Erdmann is about a rather unhappy, workaholic woman, who is forced to reevaluate her life when her oddball father decides to spontaneously pay a visit to the daughter he never sees. Presenting himself as an eccentric alter-ego, “Toni Erdmann” inserts himself into Ines’s life in ways that her father couldn’t. What follows is an achingly funny, surprising, and hilarious triumph – a work of great beauty and feeling. That is, according to the blurbs on the poster above. Me? I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.

Excruciatingly long (nearing the three hour mark), plodding, and hard to follow, Toni Erdmann sells itself as a comedy, but unless I just don’t understand German humour (entirely possible) there’s very little to find funny here. Plenty of moments are funny in a very sad sort of way, but not the sad sort of way that makes you get something out of it. Just sad and a little funny. Bits of Ines’s life we’re privy to range from mundane to disturbing to confusing, but never funny, at least in most people’s understanding of that word. It’s just awkward and dull much of the time.

For such a boring movie, it’s rather strange and for such a strange movie, it’s rather cliche. In the end it’s mostly a familiar story about not letting life pass you by, living the life you want, and enjoying meaningful moments. It takes forever to get there though, and I don’t find it very effective at selling those points.

There is obviously, I hope, something to this film that I am just not getting. There is a comedy or wisdom to it that’s just flying right over my head. There must be. It’s already heavily awarded and a favorite among critics who are not me. Directed by a woman, maybe it’s coming from a point of view I just don’t get. Maybe something is lost in translation from German and Romanian (though a surprising amount of the dialogue is in English). I don’t know and would welcome anyone who loves this film to explain it to me.

Maybe, though, it is one of those films that just manages so well to seem like it should be good that everyone thinks it actually is. There is some imaginative imagery here, for sure. The prolonged nude scene is actually rather poignant if you manage to decipher what’s going on and what it means, or at least what I think it means. There are moments that seem like they are part of a better film. On a whole, however, I’ll have to say that Toni Erdmann is just wearing funny teeth for no apparent reason.

Mrs. Hamster saw bits and pieces of this movie and was thoroughly confused

Brother Hamster did not screen this film

My rating: Two out of five hats

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Trailer:

Toni Erdmann pops into select theaters, including the DC area, January 27