Leave it to a German comedy — a seemingly self-contradictory term — to be nearly three hours in length, but damn if Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann doesn’t pull it off. Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a semi-retired divorcee with a penchant for fake teeth and other novelty disguises who decides to spend some time with his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), a rising businesswoman working for a company that outsources jobs to Romnia — whether she particularly wants him to or not. He incorporates himself into her corporate existence as life coach Toni Erdmann, wearing a suit and shaggy wig that make him look unsettlingly like Tommy Wiseau from The Room, which is surely unintentional (but adds another layer of meaning for those in the know). The movie’s most impressive trick is that while Winfried’s stated philosophy is “Don’t lose the humor,” his disguises never descend into a Patch Adams-type aggressive whimsy. Similarly, while Winfried/Toni’s ultimate aim is to help his daughter learn how to enjoy life and live in the moment, he never comes across as an idiot savant nor the shaggy, middle-aged equivalent of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s a level of sensitivity and nuance that’s likely to be absent from the already-threatened American remake, but at least we’ll still have the generous original.
Rated R. Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.