See TONI ERDMANN.
Most of the time, I wouldn’t be so frank, but with this movie, I have to be. It’s in German, nearly three hours long, requires a little bit of patience, and won’t be playing for long. If I’ve turned you off with those statements, please stick with me.
TONI ERDMANN follows a practical joker named Winfried and his daughter, Ines, a woman caught up in the scheme of the corporate world as she works on an outsourcing project in the oil industry. And when I say caught up, I mean it: she almost completely ignores her father as he visits her for a few days while she works in Bucharest. Eventually, Winfried leaves, only to surprise his daughter later as he shows up in a wig and false teeth, claiming to be a life coach named Toni Erdmann. Will the strange joke somehow work?
TONI ERDMANN is a meandering film. It’s about many things: the downsides of globalism, the treatment of women in the workplace, the uncommunicative divide that relatives may have. But it works, both because it’s such unfamiliar, weird territory (the American remake coming soon may have a harder time nailing this as it tries to play for the whole room) and because it’s funny. Not in a laugh-out-loud way, necessarily, but more in a quiet and amusing way. That is, until the end, which gave me the biggest laughing fit I’ve had in a movie theater this year. Maybe even ever.
And you have to see this in a movie theater, by the way. Sitting at home, where you can pause the film or watch it alone or be distracted by other devices is not the way to enjoy it. In a movie theater, you and other audience members are all in for the ride together, something necessary for a movie as peculiar as this.
What’s even more peculiar is how much it touched me by the end. There’s a moment that almost brought me to tears, and I don’t cry at movies. This scene worked so well because the story here is always intriguing. You don’t know where it’s going and you’re all the better for it. The two lead characters and their dynamic is one that is constantly changing, in a way that will surprise and delight you.
In fact, that’s what TONI ERDMANN will do: surprise and delight. Even if you’re not intrigued by the premise, even if the trailer doesn’t grab you, even if you’re not excited by the three-hour runtime, seek this movie out, preferably quickly since it won’t be playing for long. Yes, it’s strange. But that’s exactly why it’s one of the best films of 2016.