This German film clocks in at 2 hours and 42 minutes and is a top contender for the best foreign language Oscar this year.
My experience watching this film was not ideal. A woman sitting next to me had sneaked her lunch into the theater and ate it there. It was a smelly sandwich. After about 10 minutes, I had had enough. I got up and moved to one of the few open seats, in the front row on the far side of the theater. It’s not fun watching a movie with subtitles when you are leaning back and sideways to view a screen set just about on top of you.
I did not especially enjoy the movie, for whatever reason, but I may be alone. Critics love-love-love “Toni Erdmann.” One wrote this:
“I cried laughing, laughed crying, and plunged through every other emotional paradox that glugs beneath the surface of family life.”
So here’s the story: Winfried, a divorced German music teacher who is lonely after the death of his dog, travels to Bucharest to see his daughter, Ines, a management consultant. Ines is busy repping a plan to fire a Romanian company’s workers and outsource their jobs in the interest of higher profits — a project that could gain her a promotion to partner.
Ines has a life filled with meetings and after-work engagements where she sucks up to clients. She is surprised when her father shows up at her office. He thinks she looks unhappy. They talk a little about this and the meaning of life. After a short stay, he pretends to say goodby but then reappears in a bad wig and with the fake name that is the movie’s title.
The father is a practical joker of long standing. One of his schticks is popping an ugly set of yellowing front teeth in and out of his mouth all day long. He is also a low-energy type; the leisurely pace of his conversations and antics may be the norm for Germany, but it would never work here. (An American version of this film is planned, starring Jack Nicholson. We’ll see whether he plods through the title role.)
The turning point of the movie, I think, comes when Toni plays a keyboard as Ines sings “The Greatest Love of All,” that terrible Iove-yourself-most-of-all number that made Whitney Houston famous and symbolized much of what was wrong with the 1980s.
Maybe that was supposed to be funny, but nobody in my theater laughed. In fact, all the major critics — and I do mean all of them — wrote that “Toni Erdmann” was nonstop belly-laugh hilarity, but there was not a single chuckle during my screening.
Maybe it was the smelly sandwich.
Another notable movie open last weekend was the second Fifty Shades picture, a romance between a nice young woman and a handsome billionaire whose only problem is that he is a sexual sadist, big on whips and handcuffs. What’s a girl to do?
If you are dithering about which of these two movies to see, I will mention that “Toni Erdmann” also has sexual content — a naked party and a sex scene in which the woman instructs her partner to masturbate on a plate of petit fours. It’s not sadistic or funny, but it is unusual.