Toni Erdmann is a hard sale for a UK cinema audience but it absolutely rewards on an emotional level those who watch it. A German comedy with subtitles and a running time of 162 minutes that is about a father and daughter who struggle to connect might not seem worth your time but it really works thanks to two very good performances and a lot of moments that ring true.
Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a divorced father who likes to play practical jokes and struggles to connect with his daughter. The death of his dog prompts him to go and visit her. The fear on her face when he explains he has taken a month off work is just as funny to him as it is to us.
Ines (Sandra Huller) is a high-powered business woman who seems unable to take her mind off work and is prone to pretending to be on the phone in order to ignore family at gatherings. Whilst in the middle of consulting on an outsourcing plan that would make hundreds of jobs redundant, she initially shuns her father only to warm to him.
Given that this is a European film though, the warming of their relationship is not an inspirational uplifting experience. It is a slow process, filled with difficult awkward moments. It only really starts to work when Winfried decides to no longer be himself and turns himself into his alter ego Toni Erdmann, complete with wig and false teeth.
The humour is understated and at times down right odd. Whoopee cushions, false teeth and ejaculating on petits fours all feature. What really works though is the relationship between the two. And the denouement does not suggest all is good in the world, it just shows that common ground has been found. As the film fades to black and Plainsong by The Cure swells up it sums up the melancholic, but uplifting nature of the film.