Review / ‘Toni Erdmann’ (M) *** and a half

HOORAY for Hollywood! The International Movie Database tells me that, in his first film since “How Do You Know” (2010), Jack Nicholson will play the title role in Gary Sanchez Films’ plagiarising of “Toni Erdmann” and Kristen Wiig will play his daughter.

What’s that got to do with German writer/director Maren Ade’s original film about a father trying to establish meaningful contact with his daughter? Well, Gary Sanchez doesn’t exist. He’s a partnership between actor Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay that has produced many of Ferrell’s films. And when I imagine Nicholson playing a 65-year-old German music teacher who, to ease his grief following his old dog’s death, travels to Bucharest to reconnect with his estranged daughter, I simply cannot envisage a Hollywoodised version with such a pedigree even getting screened at Cannes much less receiving great acclaim there, as Ade’s film did last year.

The film delivers an intelligent mix of subtle and in-your-face, often slapstick, humour with a serious and often poignant examination of a father/daughter relationship that might at any moment run aground on the rock of angst. In his 70th year, Peter Simonischek plays Toni in firm command of a character who only wants to re-discover a disintegrated family. Playing Ines, Sandra Hűller projects a woman desperate to keep a sub-executive job somewhat beyond her ability.

Because Toni gets most of the laughs, we mightn’t expect Ines, a scratchy personality in her best moments, to get many if any. And it is so until well into the film. Ines is throwing a birthday party for herself. Her skin-tight dress is uncomfortable. Her antics removing it are hilarious and rightly so, just as her doorbell begins to announce guests arriving. What follows is a long, almost single, take that generated gales of laughter from the women in the audience as she plays it nude with complete sangfroid.

Somehow I can’t see Hollywood getting Kristen Wiig to do that.

At Palace Electric

 

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