Interesting idea but missed the mark for me

This is my review of Toni Erdmann [DVD] [2017].

In this offbeat farce with a serious message, artistic prankster Winfried Conradi is appalled to see how his daughter Ines has become a high-flying workaholic, driven to succeed in a ruthless, corporate world. This is a far cry from his own idealism and lack of materialism, born in a time when Germany was redefining its values after WW2. Ines is by turns embarrassed and furious when he gatecrashes her working life in Bucharest, where she is trying to negotiate a delicate contract which will involve handling the redundancies which will inevitably result from the reorganisation of Romanian oil production on efficient modern lines.

Winfried has been likened in appearance to Dame Edna Everage’s counterpart Les Patterson, but I have to confess being irritated by his trademark fake goofy teeth and mop-like wig. He struck me as the kind of attention-seeking unfunny would-be comic I would avoid like the plague in real life, making it hard to be convinced that there is supposed to be a wise, perceptive, right-thinking character underneath.

The acting is good, particularly the role of the tense Ines, whose sense of the ridiculous, which is perhaps inevitable in the child of such a father, nevertheless breaks through, even at inopportune moments.

This film has been highly praised by the critics, and certainly had many people roaring continually with laughter when I watched the film with a live audience. Yet for me, the film does not really “work”.

It is at least 45 minutes too long with some scenes so protracted, possibly in an attempt to immerse the audience in realism, that their initial dramatic impact is allowed to evaporate. Since the director apparently produced about 100 hours of footage, I appreciate that cutting it down to barely 3 hours must have been a challenge, but the lack of editing seriously weakens the film.

I admit that there are some moving moments, and that the main aim may be to explore the relationship between father and daughter, a serious theme leavened by a comic framework, but I am not sure that the film added much insight over the three hours. Although perhaps too different from her father ever to give up her career and become genuinely laid back, Ines shows from the outset that, despite her uptight exterior, she cannot help laughing at, even joining in, some of her father’s pranks, and is remarkably tolerant towards his excesses.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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