Here's Jason reporting from the NYFF on a Cannes favorite and Oscar hopeful
It's not often you hear an audience of movie critics gasp out loud at something on-screen, but Toni Erdmann, the new comedy of forced familial closeness from German director Maren Ade, has a comic moment so perfectly timed that it got the civilized cinema-set of New York City to jump out of their seats like this was an Evil Dead movie in 3D. You know you've got 'em hooked when you can conjure up such a response - Hitchcock called it playing the audience like a piano. The fact that it comes via a comic-beat here, and not via a cat jumping onto a final girl's shoulder or a shower stabbing, makes it all the more astonishing.
And make no mistake - Toni Erdmann is astonishing...
Toni Erdmann is a true feat of high-wire movie-making that Ade maneuvers like a mad-women possessed with the high holy spirit of cinematic perfection attained. It pours out of her like it was written in tongues. By turns hilarious and devastating... actually, scratch that - the film is hilarious and devastating all at once, at every once; it brooks no turns. There is no need to with such a precise handle on mood and tone and performance in all the nine-thousand-seven-hundred-and-twenty seconds (aka 2 hours and 42 minutes) of this thing. It flows like water. A lot of water, but water anyway.
The film tells the tale of Winfried (Peter Simonischek) and his estranged daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller). The father invades the daughter's life in the big city armed with a phalanx of costume props and a determination to break down her defenses any which way he can. That most of those ways involve a set of crooked dentures and a dollar store wig only enhances the absurd nightmare we're all about to slip into, and nobody's letting up until we all come out on the other side heaving with laughter and a hard deep recognition of our own worst (and some best) sins.
Both actors clearly caught some of Ade's rapture because they're flying like trapeze maniacs. These performances somehow manage to be both the size of the Sun and as warm and life-giving too. They say a movie's great if it's got three great scenes but it's hard to pinpoint a moment in Toni Erdmann's nearly three hours that doesn't ring painfully, beautifully true. Should I give a shout-out to Hüller's crowd-rousing performance of Whitney's Houston's "Greatest Love of All," which taps into all of that schmaltz and and all of that sincerity simultaneously? What about the funniest use of full frontal nudity maybe ever put on screen?
All I know is by the end of Toni Erdmann I wanted to spend another three hours with these characters, and yet the landing Ade sticks is so surprising and so exquisite that it would be criminal to mess that up. I'm tempted to hit myself in the head and give myself amnesia so I can sit down and watch this movie again for the first time. It would be worth all the pain. Such sweet, exquisite, and hilarious pain.
Toni Erdmann is Germany's Oscars submission for 2016. It opens in select US theaters on December 25th.