Review: Weird father-daughter reunion in ‘Toni Erdmann’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The German comedy “Toni Erdmann” has plenty to say about parenting, ambition, feminism and modern happiness, but not enough to justify its absurdly longwinded running time.

Clocking in at an unwieldy 162 minutes, “Erdmann” overstays its welcome, just as its title character does. He’s the altar ego of Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a born prankster who sees life as a stage for performance art shenanigans. That approach has basically left him alone, and when his dog dies, he decides to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller).

Ines is the opposite of her father, so driven by careerist goals that she has no time to enjoy anything. She can handle high pressure client meetings but is stifled when her father asks her a simple question, “Are you happy?” She needs to loosen up, he needs to put away the whoopee cushions. See where this is headed?

You won’t, not entirely. Writer-director Maren Ade takes “Toni Erdmann” down a rather bizarre path that is anything but conventional, although it begins to border on abuse. Erdmann — Winfried in a bad wig, gag dentures and an ill-fitting suit — essentially stalks his daughter across Europe as she tries to close a global deal, showing up at bars and business meetings and striking up conversations with her associates. She’s horrified, as she absolutely should be, but he eventually wears her down, because the movie has to go somewhere.

“Erdmann” isn’t sappy or sentimental — the already-in-the-works American remake likely will be — but its beats are repetitive and its message belabored. Yes, we need to laugh. But nearly three hours with Toni Erdmann shows that when the joke’s up it’s time to move on.

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‘Toni Erdmann’


Rated R: for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use

Running time: 162 minutes