I must admit to feeling ever-so-slightly let down after watching this German drama-comedy (definitely the right way round) by Berlin-based filmmaker Maren Ade; after months and months of festival praise, critical hype and end-of-year poll wins perhaps it was inevitable, but I know that I’m not alone. Perhaps it’s my fault for not keeping my expectations in check, but the much-touted comic set-pieces involving the embarrassment of business consultant Ilse (Sandra Hüller) when her practical joker father Winfried (Peter Simonischeck) jumps into the middle of her corporate lifestyle in Bucharest didn’t make me laugh or squirm all that much (I just don’t understand all the fuss about the much-mentioned karaoke scene, which is…um…fine?). Still, I like the film’s scenario, in which Winfried’s unshakeable belief that his daughter needs more fun in her life leads him to don a silly wig and false teeth, among other props, and pass himself off in high-ish society as a rather ridiculous life coach called Toni Erdmann. Some of his antics did raise a smile, as did Ilse’s increasing discomfort. And it’s well-acted – especially by the main pair – with a screenplay that accurately and effectively captures a sense of lives in motion; it is sad, too, in that it is about time that has passed, and the growing physical and emotional distance between father and daughter – they are closer at the end of the film in one sense, but a new position for Ilse means she will be moving even farther away from Winfried and her native Germany; so has he lost everything by the end?
I also liked the way the story takes time to explore Ilse’s work and private life, examining the general sexism she must face on a daily basis and the hoops she must jump through to get on in her world, which is seemingly the source of her unhappiness. Hmmm; it is easy to warm to the film’s evident charms and as I’ve been typing I’ve convinced myself to go from 3.5 stars to 4. So, I was slightly disappointed, but I still enjoyed it and I think there’s a lot to consider afterwards. (****)