The Oddities of Love
Stars: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Ingrid Anca, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl and Trystan Putter
Director/Scriptwriter: Maren Ade
Composer: Patrick Veigel
Cinematographer: Patrick Orth
German/Austria with some subtitles
Rating: R for nudity and sexual content, adult film
Running Length: 162 minutes
Nominated for Academy Award Foreign Language Film
“Toni Erdmann” is 40 minutes too long, period. Hand-held camera work goes just so far and interest begins to wan when the audience follows someone walking, walking, sitting... Director Maren Ade doesn't “cut” until way past due. This story is of a father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) who feels himself growing apart from his adult daughter, Ines (Sandra Huller), senses her unhappiness and tries to help her. Dad is a retired teacher and daughter is in the business world with a profile job. What to do?
The film follows the eccentric pranks of Dad as he tries to re-connect with his daughter, now working in Budapest. They have a meeting, but it is awkward, with the daughter wanting to go back to work. Dad senses that work is a substitute for unhappiness and he decides to bring some joy into her life. This consists of showing up at various occasions as a “coach” named Toni Erdmann, and wearing an unkempt, long brown wig. Nothing obvious there. She ignores him, but other people seem to take to him and humor him. This goes from parties to office to her in the field with a hard hat. He is everywhere. The culmination is her party in which she is so frustrated at picking out clothes, she decides to go nude to open the door and declares this to be a “nude party.” Not only this, but Dad decides to invade wearing a sort of gorilla outfit. This is the point at which Ines must make a decision about her life. One wonders if the actors signed up for this film knowing there would be a nude party. Decisions, decisions....
The idea of a father helping his daughter is not a new one, and in this setting of working your way up the corporate ladder, it has promise. Actor Jack Nicholson is interested in working in an American version of “Toni Erdmann.” With Nicholson’s flair for comedy, and a shortened script, this has potential. However, in the current “Erdmann” film, by the time 162 minutes has past, helping someone has lost appeal. The camera is everywhere and is another “Erdmann” in the room. Obtrusive. Apartments and clothing here are minimalist, with basic business suits, basic untrimmed furniture in rooms and sparse responses in conversations.
As far as acting, Peter Simonischek's "Toni Erdmann" is emotionless and he either speaks softly or mumbles and it is difficult to make out his conversation. In fact, even other actors seem to have difficulty hearing him, so this is part of the "Toni Erdmann" persona? Sandra Huller as Ines, the daughter, gives a compact performance whether she is happy or not. Who knows? The humor actually comes from Trystan Putter as Tim and his facial expressions.
If Winfried needed “Toni Erdmann” to express himself, what does that say about Dad? Just who needs help, here? The dialogue is ambiguous as in a scene when Dad asks daughter if she is human. At first, I thought he was referring to her having an incurable illness, but he was referencing her low emotional responses to life, which to him is one big party. One has to wade though many scenes to follow the thread of helping someone emotionally.
Copyright 2017 Marie Asner