There's no way Toni Erdmann could ever live up to its hype. Reviews from Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival touted the German film as a 162-minute screwball comedy masterpiece, packed with high emotional stakes and major laughs. It's funny and it has perverse and zany moments as well, that's undeniable, but it's also a movie about status and existential crises. Toni Erdmann becomes downright melancholy at times, and stretches of the film are contemplatively slow. I think the actual movie might have gotten lost in the hyperbolic one-upsmanship of the festival critic echo chamber.
In a press conference after a screening of the film, writer/director Maren Ade seemed to push back against the hype with an extreme undersell. "It's a movie about humor, but it's not very funny," she said. Maybe that's just her German sense of humor.
Toni Erdmann is less of a screwball comedy and more of a cringe dramedy. A little less like His Girl Friday, a little more The Office (but one of the thoughtful episodes). This father-daughter story is voluminous and strange, and moments don't always fit together. Yet maybe that's a way of mirroring the shape of strained parent-child relationships in adult life: they're weird, they're difficult, and yet they're worthwhile.
[This review originally ran as part of Flixist's coverage of the 54th New York Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the US theatrical release of the film.]