Like most people in the English speaking world who did so, I only watched this movie because it made enough of a splash in America not only to warrant a Hollywood remake, but it was enough to bring none other than Jack Nicholson out of retirement to play the titular role.
That all fell through and I haven’t heard the remake mentioned since, but I was still interested enough to see what all the fuss was about. After watching it, I don’t know what the fuss was all about and I’m still not sure what I watched.
The basic premise – which I didn’t understand until reading a bit more about it (after wathcing it) – is that an elderly man tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter by posing as a wacky businessman and ingratiating himself into her high powered career circles.
But that covers about a quarter of what goes on, and even that wasn’t distinctive enough to assert itself in the sloshing soup of other ideas, characters and subplots.
It’s full of WTF moments that will have you questioning everyone’s motivations. I could list them all and keep you here all day, but I’ll relate just one where the heroine, Ines (Sandra Hüller) is having a very classy, fully catered birthday party. Frustrated at her inability to get into her slinky fitted party dress she rips it off in a temper, goes out to the party stark naked and casually tells the only other guest who’s arrived so far that it’s a naked party. When the incredulous woman – who you’ve supposed has been Ines’ friend all this time – refuses, Ines kicks her out, insisting every new arrival disrobe.
With things in full swing and naked co-workers standing around slowly getting used to the idea, her father Winfried (Peter Simonischek), who’s been posing as this weird alter ego, shows up in a huge sasquatch outfit, then leaves, then she throws on a robe, goes outside, follows him across a crowded park and throws herself into his arms.
And this has come after weeks of him showing up at inopportune moments in a ridiculous wig and fake teeth and calling himself Toni Erdmann, preteding he doesn’t know her but ruining deals and embarrassing her in front of clients.
In the father using this pointless invention to connect with his daughter, is the film saying she’s emotionally closed down and only wanted him to pay attention to her the whole time? If so, are we to believe a grown woman would behave in ways that border on bipolar? If it’s indeed supposed to be a character study of a deeply damaged woman leanring to love and forgive her elderly dad again, it gives no indication of it. Or is it all some fairy story or metaphor for something?
Form the time Winfried answers his door to a courier in the first scene, telling the guy he’s the brother of the guy the package is for, making a show of going to get him and then coming back to the door dressed in a different costume while obviously the same man, you have no idea of the point of it all.
Look, it’s well acted and portrays the modern corporate world very accurately and genuinely. But does waiting for something – anything – to make sense for the whole film make that worth it? And for nearly three hours?
A more economical and madcap version of the same story made in Hollywood might hit a few more comedy notes, but this is like throwing the whole orchestra into a metal grinder and expecting Bach to ring out.
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