REVIEW: Toni Erdmann @ Tyneside Cinema

Posted on February 20th 2017 by Whats on Northeast

Review: Simon Ramshaw for Cuckoo Review

I saw Toni Erdmann at a strange moment. It had been announced the night before that an American remake was already in the works, with Jack Nicholson coming out of retirement to star as the titular japester. Anchorman helmer and recent Oscar nominee Adam McKay is producing. Kristen Wiig is Nicholson’s irritated daughter and foil. The results are sure to be as goofy as the gruesome dentures that play such a massive part in the original.

And yet, after enduring every agonisingly awkward moment Ade and her dedicated cast have to offer, I can confirm that my worries about an American remake are entirely founded. Ade has created a work so singularly German (or European at a push; you could say that there’s some hints of bone-dry British comedy in there) that a brash US revision would create a tone that is simply wrong for the story.

What a bizarre tone it is, too. Beginning with a barrage of awful dad jokes from the endlessly annoying Winfried (Peter Simonischek in a ‘Why the hell haven’t I seen anything with this guy in before?’ performance), we soon delve into the fractious relationship between Winfried and his daughter Ines, a high-flying corporate worker who unfortunately specialises in the laying-off of the average worker. Convinced that she has lost her sense of humour, Winfried is hellbent on bombarding her with his own brand of ‘fun’, often disguising himself in grotesque wigs and suits to blend in the best he can.

What follows is an utterly exhausting but raucously hilarious sequence of character-driven gags, often scored by nothing but your own laughter. Using his trusty cheese grater and his cutting banter about, well, cheese grating, Winfried adopts the persona of Toni Erdmann, a self-proclaimed life coach with obvious dentures and a hopelessly greasy wig. Whenever the film gets bogged down in Ines’ astonishingly dull corporate life, Ade and Simonischek wake you back up with more cringeworthy antics from Winfried in a clever sleight of hand that lulls you into a false sense of security before creeping back up on you with its increasingly painful brand of comedy.

I realise I’m making this seem like a terrible trial of a film, but it is absolutely worth letting yourself sink into. If you put up a front to the extremely Dadaist sense of humour, then there’s a good chance that you’ll miss the wide variety of subtext contained within the film; Ade’s primary message is to not be embarrassed about who you are, to not conform to what the rigid structures of the Western world want you to be. The gaspingly funny finale hits this thesis home hard, only to remind you in the quiet epilogue that (like the wearying Winfried) it’s all just an anti-joke.

So if you’re looking to have your brain tested by a bawdy comedy, then Toni Erdmann is the film for you. With award-worthy performances from the central duo and a quietly masterful screenplay, it’s fun without making you guilty and funny without insulting your intelligence. Take your dad to see it if you’ve got a sense of humour.

This review originally appeared on Cuckoo Review, a site dedicating to developing the skills of young writers in partnership with venues across the North East. For more reviews from young writers, visit the Cuckoo Review website.

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