NYFF Film Review: ‘Toni Erdmann’ Is Ambitious but Ultimately Flawed

toni_erdmann2016 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Maren Ade‘s touching, and often funny “Toni Erdmann” finds the nuance in many family relationships. Its look into the lives of a father and daughter struggling to take the serious out of their life, and vice versa, is quite charming. It is weirdly neurotic and reckless, but by credits end, you’ll find the heart and soul. With that said, it threads the needle between bizarre and unbelievable. You have to wonder the reasoning behind characters’ actions, and wonder, would someone actually do this?

“Toni Erdmann” tells the story of Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek), a father who tries desperately to reconnect with his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller).

Ade’s script takes an admirable snapshot of a family aching for love and connection. Having elements of a German version of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” Ade paints a portrait, often detailed, most times, too much so. There’s so much given to the audience and it becomes tedious. We are given so much of Winfried and his alter-ego Toni Erdmann, that by film’s end, we’ve had quite enough of him. Simonischek can be overactive, playing the character as something you’d see on a NBC sitcom. Overall, he wins you over, but at the cost of your own annoyance.

There is a coat of armor that the film wears upon its charming exterior, and its the understated and vivacious work of Hüller. She is transparently vulnerable in every sense, while also battling to keep it all together. You can see every thought and wonderment in which she holds to Ines. She is a tragically flawed and morose woman, aching for sustainability in every sense. If there’s an Oscar-worthy element to champion, you can do no worse than Hüller.

There is a sincerity that’s apparent throughout. Ade wants us to watch and behold these characters in each beat and word. It’s not too often we get a character study of this magnitude. She has a soft, sensitive direction in which the audience is driven throughout the film. “Toni Erdmann” finds chuckles, laughs, and some beautifully constructed set pieces involving a dinner party and a giant costume.

In the end, “Toni Erdmann” lacks the crucial honesty that leaves you disappointed and underwhelmed. It also doesn’t earn its 2 hour 42 minute runtime. It’s hard to ding the film too much for its ambitious swing. We’d be so lucky to see more directors make these attempts. Indeed, there’d be loads more interesting endeavors along the way. This is also another example of a film that is resonated so brilliantly in its marketing materials. The poster sings so loudly after watching. Overall, “Toni Erdmann” is a valiant effort.

“Toni Erdmann” is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and is the German submission for Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards.

It’s scheduled to hit theaters on Dec. 25.

GRADE: (★★½)