Toni Erdmann

The movie theater was packed at a matinée of a two and a half-plus hour German comedy. Had me in stitches the whole time.

“Stitches”? The whole time? I enjoyed it the whole time, but one of the many charms of Maren Ade’s script for Toni Erdmann was its sad, bittersweet tone, even when it went completely madcap. Then again, even when she’s being screwball the metaphorical content is on point, even poetic.

toni-erdmann

Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller  in “Toni Erdmann.”

Ade teaches screenwriting at a university in Berlin, and her scripts are always writerly – her feature Everyone Else at the 2009 New York Film Festival arguably more so than this one. The success of Toni Erdmann shows that a dose of humor makes the medicine of a dense script with a subtle sense of conflict and resolution to go down smoother.

It only takes a few scenes to establish that its lead character Winfried, an old, divorced music teacher, will go to any length for a joke, including cheap disguises and ludicrously fake identities. A scene with his ex-wife and her family, and the obvious fondness they have for him, shows what a harmless goon he is. That goes a long way in helping us forgive him as he crosses line after line with his daughter.

Winfried’s daughter Ines is a power-yuppie worming her way into the elite levels of European capital, and Winfried crashes her corporate-centered social calendar among oil speculators in Bucharest by using the pseudonym Toni Erdmann. If most dreamy-eyed screenwriting students are writing stories about sons and daughters hitting an impermeable wall in their fathers, their teacher (in Berlin, anyway) has written a masterpiece that turns the journey around: A father is trying to enter his stone-cold daughter’s world.

The script also achieves something most writing students would get a rap on the knuckles for, but Ade does it so seamlessly no one minds: It starts out as Winfried’s story, but after he appears to leave Bucharest for the first time, Ines steps in as the main character. Elegantly done.

It has one of the most perverse sex scenes I’ve ever laughed through, and a very memorable birthday party gone wrong. At the end of her nerves emotionally, her doorbell blaring, Ines has to answer it naked, and decides to turn her birthday party into a nakedness-required affair. One after another her colleagues arrive and get sent away, with a few exceptions, and you figure you can see where the gag is going. But that’s just the start of it!

It’s probably going to win the Best Foreign Film Oscar, so it will be around.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: