FILM REVIEW: Toni Erdmann

2016’s Toni Erdmann was a huge critical success. The German-Austrian comedy of manners won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars (narrowly missing out to The Salesman), and was at the top of many critics’ lists of the best films of last year. There’s also the inevitable English-language remake, to star Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig, though it’s difficult to imagine how a mainstream Hollywood studio will be able to produce anything as emotionally subtle yet excruciatingly frank. Has anyone got in touch with Alexander Payne?

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The premise: What would happen if your parents could see how you really live your life? When his dog dies, divorced sadsack prankster Winfried turns up uninvited at the workplace of his daughter, Ines, a successful but unhappy business consultant. Winfried fails to not embarrass Ines as she attempts to navigate a series of social business events with him in tow. The two are virtually estranged, the relationship particularly strained, and eventually Winfried, tired of being left to his own devices, leaves for the airport. A tearful yet relieved Ines composes herself and meets her friends for dinner, where she tells them of her ‘weekend from Hell’ which is interrupted when the stranger at the bar behind them turns to reveal himself as Winfried, in disguise as his alter-ego, Toni Erdmann, a buck-toothed life coach and business consultant. A mortified Ines is forced to go along with the ruse, and what follows is a series of cringe-inducing episodes where Ines does her best to keep her career on track in a world of corporate callousness under the gaze of her incognito father.

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The film is hilarious and touching, using its premise to effectively skewer bullshit Western capitalist zombie culture and provide some incredibly awkward comedy that is as funny as it is hard to watch. The message isn’t new: life is short, have fun, don’t forget to care, but it comes at a perfect time, on the back of the Western world’s near-economic meltdown, and the film is refreshingly free from pontificating and mawkishness, so that it’s conclusion is heartfelt and straightfaced and I totally bought it. Right now, I think the world could use a lot more Toni Erdmanns.

Review by Matthew Blackwell

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Review by Matthew Blackwell

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