“Toni Erdmann”

“Toni Erdmann” (Germany)
Directed by Maren Ade

020082016184727_media1The current front-runner for the Best Foreign Language Oscar is…get ready…a German comedy that runs almost three hours in length. You don’t normally think of those two descriptors when comedy comes to mind. VERY few comedies work beyond ninety minutes, nevermind nearly three hours. And, while there have been some decent German comedies over the years (although I can’t think of any off the top of my head – which is telling), it is not a genre they are famous for. And, yet, as stated, it leads all other foreign films as the critical darling of much more experienced critics than myself…and many film fans whose taste I admire and trust. So, with much anticipation (and a large dollop of trepidation), I visited the Film Forum while in NYC last week, got my coffee and settled in for the yuckfest that I was sure “Toni Erdmann” would be…

…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..oh, sorry…fell asleep there for a second…

No, I didn’t ACTUALLY fall asleep in the theater, but neither did I laugh muchh, nor, two hours in, give much of a crap about the characters. I just don’t know what it is I’m missing, because, while it certainly has its moments, and would be much better described as a slice of life with some laughs, it’s just not all that enjoyable.

So, the premise, which is quite good, revolves around an aging public school art/music teacher who decides to drop in on his very corporately involved daughter. There are plenty of fish-out-of-water laughs, and even some very poignant messages about the nature of missing life as it goes by. And I guess if it had been whittled down to about ninety minutes(!) I might have really enjoyed it. I think? But it just meandered, stuck in a never-ending second act loop for so long, I wanted to…scream…no, not scream…take a nap!

The acting is excellent. Peter Simonischeck, as the Jacques Clouseau-wannabe, is wonderful. Filled with years of emotional depth and world-weariness, even as he concocts and executes his little games. And Sandra Huller, as the uber-ambitious, uber-unfulfilled, and uber-done with sexist attitudes daughter, is also uber-good…never better than when we see cracks in the facade. These bits of moments, during the welcome turn for home in the third act, are honest and heartbreaking. A hilarious, but real, scene involving her singing in public actually hit so close to home, there was quite the lump in my throat.

But acting and some wonderful gags and moments are just not enough in an anvil of a film like Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann”. In fact, there was a MUCH better three-hour European family comedy THIS YEAR, Romania’s “sieranevada” (my review is here). And another, not nearly as successful (but still WAY better than “Erdmann”) family comedy from Sweden, “A Man Called Ove”. In fact, I polled the other twenty or so audience members in the theater at the Forum after the film. Not a ONE could understand why they were told so emphatically to go see it, or why the reviews were so off the charts…

So how it could possibly be the FRONT-RUNNER for the Oscar. “Toni Erdmann” wouldn’t be in my Top Five this year. To think this film will get all the publicity and accolades for an Oscar win over the best film of the year in any language, Denmark’s brutally intense “Land of Mine”, is a travesty. Or Pablo Larrain’s hilarious masterpiece, “Neruda”. Or Chan-wook Park’s gorgeous, sexy, and funny “The Handmaiden”. Or the fantastic Finnish film “The Happiest day in the Life of Olli Maki”. I still haven’t even seen five or six others that are being considered. Hell, “Neruda”, “sieranevada”, “Handmaiden” and “Olli Maki” didn’t even make the shortlist! Huh?! Okay…breathe!

“Toni Erdmann” is fine, I guess. It has some real moments of laughter and humanity. But it DESPERATELY needed an editor who could say no to the director, and for that reason, I can’t really recommend it. Seek out “Land of Mine” or “sieranevada” instead!

Written on 1/6/2017

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