By Brent Holmes
If you think shows like The Office, Extras or Curb Your Enthusiasm exemplify the pinnacle of awkward, uncomfortable comedy, think again. Maren Ade’s third feature film, Toni Erdmann, is a painfully funny comedy about loneliness that despite its nearly 3-hour runtime does not overstay its welcome—even when its characters do.
Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is an elderly music teacher and notorious practical joker. We first meet him when he convinces a deliveryman that a package he is delivering may contain explosives. Next, we see him dress his music students up in Day of the Dead face paint as they sing a farewell to a retiring teacher. It might be fun to be the class clown but Winfred is divorced, estranged from his family and left alone by students as they grow up; he is lonely.
After Winfried’s dog dies, he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), on an impromptu weekend visit. Much in contrast to Winifred, Ines is a practical, serious businesswoman working on outsourcing oil industry projects with little time for jokes. Her father’s visit is an inconvenience. In her mind, his visit should only last two days. But although Winfried says goodbye, he’s not going anywhere.
Instead, Winfried adopts the name Toni Erdmann, dons a ludicrous wig and fake teeth, and follows Ines to clubs, parties and work. Ines has little choice but to go along with it and eventually starts opening up to this strange man claiming to be a businessman and coach.
The awkward situations are relentless. From cocaine-filled co-worker encounters to Whitney Houston cameos, the film is full of quirky moments that will have audiences in stitches; the film ends with possibility one of the funniest scenes ever put on the big screen.
There’s a reason this was one of the most talked-about films at the Cannes Film Festival. What could have simply been a by-the-book comedy about a father teaching his daughter to lighten up, was instead a film about how the gift of laughter can help us overcome loneliness. Underneath the wig, false teeth and never-ending pranks, there is vulnerability, heart and a desire to connect. In Toni Erdmann you’ll find sharp wit and great storytelling that’s worth every minute.
Watch Toni Erdmann on Tuesday, October 11 at 8:30PM at the Rio Theatre and on Thursday, October 13 at 2:25PM at the Centre for the Performing Arts.