At its best, Toni Erdmann is a touching exploration of a father-daughter relationship punctuated by ridiculous comedic set pieces. Though the comedy relies on certain outlandish images as building blocks, it still feels authentic and true to the characters’ situations. A lot of the credit for that goes to the two leads–Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek–both of whom understand the comedy in their characters and the undercurrent of sadness driving that comedy. I’ll be adding Huller to the list of people who deserve Best Actress over Natalie Portman.
That aside, where the film stumbles a bit is in its corporate-centric commentary. Not that it’s not important in the story: the conflict between the cold, profit-driven, sexism-laced business world and the slapstick humor of Ines’s youth is what allows Ines and her father to serve as foils for each other. In addition, there is undoubtedly some valuable social commentary peppered throughout. The problem is that a large chunk of the 162-minute runtime is spent on corporate dealings and satire that is oftentimes only mildly insightful; as a result, we run into lulls in the story. The film deserves a lot of credit, though, for making that behemoth of a comedy runtime feel shorter than it actually is.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics