“Toni Erdmann” Long, Slow and Awkward with Little Payoff

Toni Erdmann, although artful in its execution comes in at a whopping 162 minutes in length. Of this exorbitant time, maybe 15 or 16 minutes are worth watching. Though the performances are good, its charms are little, hard won, and will be lost on many viewers- including me.
Ines Conradi (Sandra Hüller) is a clean-cut, focused and driven business woman. The distance between her and her wacky father, Winifred, is visible and tangible. Winifred Conradi (Peter Simonischek) decides that he wants to repair his strained relationship with his daughter at any cost. To do so, he shows up at her place of employment, crashes events that she attends, and infiltrates himself into her world using his fake identity, Toni Erdmann. This identity includes a pair of scraggly Halloween costume teeth and a messy shoulder length blonde wig.
Ines is tense and unhappy, manipulative and focused. Her entire life is centered on her career and the look, sound, and temperament that the career calls for. After an hour and a half of repetitive scenes showing Ines struggle with work and Toni struggle to draw her attention, Ines has a meltdown. She manipulates her home to appear impressive for her coworkers and she forces her body into an ill-fitting dress. Moments before her guests arrive she needs to use the restroom. In order to do so she must completely remove her dress. The doorbell rings, her coworkers have arrived. The very people whom she most wants to impress and she cannot get the dress back on. As the doorbell continues to ring she flails as she failingly attempts to pull the dress over her head. She must address the guests arrival. Instead of throwing on some other clothes or simply asking the guests to wait, she answers the door completely nude.
I get it. The dress is symbolic of how her career has forced her into an unnatural shape. She doesn’t “fit it” anymore. Its completely out of character that someone who has aggressively controlled every nuance of their world for the express interest of their career would then approach their work mates completely nude. It is ludicrous and fascinating and the best part of the film. The strength of the scene, the layers of emotion, message and questions of privacy, pride and vulnerability would have lent itself to be a film on it’s own, and would have proved much more compelling than the heaps of dead weight around this one compelling scene.
The last act of the film stays in this surreal and strange place but less successfully so. In this act, Toni Erdmann attends this naked party in a head to toe brown fur costume with a tassel on his head. The costume is called a Kukeri and is a Bulgarian New Year’s Day tradition. While visually striking, its a frustrating and weak conclusion to a movie that offers little viewer payback.
My Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Director: Maren Ade
Writer: Maren Ade
Starring: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Witterborn, Thomas Loibl
Runtime: 162 minutes
Release Date: February 10, 2017 (for Houston)
MPAA rating: R
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