Starring: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn
Director: Maren Ade
Running Time: 162 mins
Toni Erdmann is a German film about a juvenile man who attempts to reconnect with his hard-working daughter by joining her in Bucharest posing undercover as an eccentric life coach.
This is a weird film. And whilst you can say that it’s got some out-there scenes, it’s weird primarily because it seems like nothing is going on. At nearly three hours long, Toni Erdmann is a constantly perplexing film that manages to keep your attention surrounding a story of very little consequence. With a good sense of humour that doesn’t overshadow any drama, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable film to watch, but its running time is simply way too long.
The best thing that I can say about this film, however, is that it’s full of weird heart. Whilst I’ll get onto why so much of it seems inconsequential in a minute, the story about a father trying to reconnect with his daughter is very nice to see. It’s gone about in a very unorthodox way, but you can always see the heartfelt attitude of the father throughout, and that’s probably the reason that it’s actually genuinely pleasant to watch for the majority of its duration.
One way in which that comes across is definitely through the performances. The film is incredibly understated throughout, and its comedy (generally) isn’t meant to spark any more than a chuckle, due to the quiet nature of the film. That said, the lead performance by Peter Simonischek is very entertaining, as he brings a juvenile old man to life brilliantly throughout, whilst the contrast between him and his daughter, played by Sandra Hüller, makes for more intrigue and entertainment.
Whilst the film is undoubtedly overlong, it does have some fantastic moments that make it all feel worthwhile. There are a good few bizarre laughs in the first and early second act, but the main attraction of the film comes in its jaw-droppingly weird final act. No spoilers as always here, but suffice to say that the film’s final act is such a unique mix of weird, hilarious, unpredictable, shocking and wonderfully heartfelt, that you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen for a good half an hour until the end.
So, those are all the positives of Toni Erdmann, but now comes the big problem. It’s too long. And when I say too long, I mean inexplicably long. The understated and very personal story is the sort of thing that suits a 105 minute indie affair, rather than something with a running time edging on Lord Of The Rings.#
That’s not to say the story’s not interesting, because it is, but the problem is that there’s so much flab here that feels totally inconsequential. The first act does this to some extent, but the real problems arise in the film’s middle portion, where we end up spending twenty minutes on a rural Romanian construction lot that serves little purpose other than to reaffirm something very clear about the main character. More and more of those sorts of scenes crop up now and again, and they really make the film feel very long. The fact of the matter is that there could be two or three separate movies here, or one that should be a lot shorter, but the 162 minute runtime here is just too much.
Overall, however, I did enjoy Toni Erdmann. Whilst it’s definitely too long, and some of its scenes feel beyond random, its weirdly heartfelt story, combined with two strong central performances, make for a surprisingly engaging watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.3.