Dark, Absurd Family Ties: Our Review of ‘Toni Erdmann’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 30, 2017
Dark, Absurd Family Ties: Our Review of ‘Toni Erdmann’

When we first meet Winfried, he’s haggard, rambunctious, and clearly with lots of time on his hands. He teases a delivery man for a bit only to retreat into his home briefly, returning with fewer clothes and some awkward accoutrements.

He doesn’t take much seriously, but this initial portrait of a man of playful nature seems to run up against a bit of hard luck when it comes to work, lost connection with family, and a dour demeanor. He is the sad clown.

In Toni Erdmann, this grandfatherly type seeks to mend the ties with his daughter Ines, a woman who has grown into someone Winfried doesn’t particularly know and struggles to understand. That is, she’s is a busy businesswoman, a corporate employee whereas he, well, makes jokes and wants to have fun.

So it’s a rather familiar set up when Winfried goes to surprise Ines with a visit in Bucharest, a stay meant to enliven her life while offering him a chance for paternal redemption. He’s loose, she’s uptight, and worlds will be shaken.  That’s the base conceit, at least.

However, Toni Erdmann takes it time, deftly combining sincere warmth, black comedy, and adult absurdity to make us care about these two estranged figures. Indeed, clocking in at over two and a half hours, this story written and directed by Maren Ade takes its time to finally develop Winfried and Ines.

There is a third character too. That’s the title figure, the silly, shaggy-haired alter ego of Winfried that he summons for an elaborate, last-ditch effort to shake up the world he shares with Ines. A series of funny and uncomfortable encounters ensue, including professional and sexual ones. While Toni smiles more and charms social women and serious businesman, you can still see the melancholy under the surface; there is a absurdity, but it’s dramatic. There is humour, but it’s black. There is hope and love, but it’s rough and flawed.

All of it combines to make Toni Erdmann engrossing and winning, and from the strange beginning to a stirring ending, utterly awkward throughout.

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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.