It was announced today that Jack Nicholson is coming out of retirement to star in a Hollywood remake of Toni Erdmann, also starring Kristen Wiig and produced by Adam ‘Anchorman‘ McKay. Maybe they’ll improve it… or maybe they’ll turn it into Dirty Grandpa.
Toni Erdmann is a German comedy; a contradiction in terms if ever there was one. Peter Simonischek plays the eccentric Winfried, and Sandra Hüller his stressed-out, career-focused daughter Ines. Over the course of nearly 3 hours, Winfried attempts to liberate his daughter and torment the audience.
Comedies tend not to be very long, and with good reason. But as Das Boot would suggest, the Germans don’t do things by halves, and Toni Erdmann‘s obnoxious running time makes it something of an endurance test. They also don’t really do subtlety; Winfried’s efforts seem implausible within the painstakingly earnest set-up, which he smashes to pieces like a dentally-challenged wrecking ball.
Hüller shows great range, while the impressive Simonischek looks like a benign Steve Bannon, until he dons the wig and turns into Gene Simmons. The film is at its best when being completely weird, but those moments are too few and far between. The movie’s lengthy mid-section is a rambling, incoherent mess, with Winfried offering little in the way of variety. It’s never very insightful and certainly not incisive.
Nominated for the Foreign Language Oscar, Toni Erdmann is frequently jarring, occasionally depressing and generally trying. To sit through it feels uncannily like being stuck in a hotel room on holiday in Europe with no choice but to watch whatever mad comedy show happens to be on TV. For 3 hours.