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Film review: Toni Erdmann – German father-daughter comedy is a life-affirming masterpiece

Superbly acted, this tale of a prankster dad and his estranged daughter is astutely observed, often hilarious, and life-affirming. No wonder Hollywood wants to remake it with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 12:04pm

4.5/5 stars

A German comedy that lasts 162 minutes may not sound like an appetising prospect, but Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is a rule-breaker. Surreal and bawdy, touching yet bizarre, it begins as divorced and ageing music teacher Winfried (Austrian actor Peter Simonischek) sees his beloved dog die and reaches out to his grown-up daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), now living in Bucharest, Romania, and working for a management consultancy firm.

When he pays Ines an unexpected visit, the tension is palpable – not exactly the happy reunion he was hoping for. But then the first of many killer moments arrives as Winfried begins to indulge his more whimsical side. A lover of practical jokes and donning silly disguises, he arrives in front of Ines’ colleagues dressed as his favourite character – the shaggy-haired, buck-toothed Toni Erdmann.

Director of Toni Erdmann, a 2016 festival sensation, on how hard it is for women to get films made

It’s hard to talk about Toni Erdmann without the individual moments sounding so strange and glib out of context. Suffice to say, it is an astutely observed and frequently hilarious tale of estrangement, driven by two fantastic lead performances. Ade, in only her third film as director, blends familial drama, comedy of embarrassment and a social critique of sexism in the workplace into a unique comic cauldron.

By the final act, after a Whitney Houston tribute song and an eye-opening work party, among other things, it becomes a life-affirming movie that really works for your affections. Already set to be remade in Hollywood, with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig attached to star, make sure you watch the original and with a big audience; it’s made for the communal experience.

Toni Erdmann
opens today