In order to spend more time with his busy and career driven daughter, Ines (Sandra Huller), Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) decides to visit her, unexpectedly, in Romania. At first, Ines humours him and devotes some time to him but soon her work takes over and Winfried has to leave. So, Winfired does the only sensible thing and tries to spend time with his daughter by pretending to be his life coach alter ego, Toni Erdmann, causing havoc in Ines' professional life.
Trying to sell this film to a non-film fan is a tall order, this 168 minute German comedy about an eccentric man’s relationship with his daughter won’t have them buying tickets as though it was the last remaining bottle of chilled water in the entirety of the Sahara Desert. Germany and comedy isn’t something that goes together all that regularly, especially when it comes to making a big splash on the international scene.
At 160 odd minutes it’s easy to imagine that the film is excessively long for something that’s being sold as a comedy. With the exception of a brief sag in the middle this German comedy breezes through its runtime relatively quickly and the film’s long length isn’t a crippling one. This is much due to the fact the film is often laugh out loud funny but empathetic to both central characters, the uptight and stressed workaholic Ines and her lonely father.
As hilarious as the situational aspects of Winfried Conradi’s alter ego Toni Erdmann are the film is careful not to solely make him the butt of the jokes, and it goes the distance to ensure that the father-daughter relationship is engaging and moving as well as amusing. Ines infuriation with her father’s behaviour is very understandable but her father’s loneliness from not spending enough time with her career driven daughter brings about an empathetic reaction even if his behaviour is eccentric enough to strongly damage relations with others.
The film’s most amusing moments stem from the highly bizarre set of circumstances the characters find themselves in. Quite often some of these things would not be funny (the fart gag for instance) but the situation in which these moments come about is what is greatly amusing. The timing of these moments are also impeccable. The performances by Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek are exceptional also, with Simonichek brilliantly towing the line between being a comic clown and highly empathetic.