Basic Bitching

Toni Erdmann Is Nothing Special


Before I get to Toni Erdmann, I have to talk about the Oscars this weekend and the season 7 premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead. It’s a notoriously gruesome hour of television that shows 2 fan-favorite characters brutally bludgeoned as a way to psychologically torture the series’ hero. We expect the first death, but the second is a shocker meant to “break” the hero (and us). It didn’t take long for some random Walking Dead fan with a YouTube channel to re-edit the episode to make it appear as if the hero watched all of his friends bludgeoned, which is such morbid fan-fiction that it’s almost impressive. How much that YouTube video reminded me of this years Oscar nominees was all I could think about during Toni Erdmann

The Oscars are this weekend, and Toni Erdmann is apparently the frontrunner to win Best Foreign Language Film…which really sucks. It’s another sad case of a totally unremarkable, basic film getting praise and attention over better films that seriously need some signal boosts. Any critic of the Oscars will tell you it happens every year, but this year in particular, it seems like frontrunners for a lot of awards are the lamest films in their categories. Not necessarily the worst, but just so basic. Usually, I wouldn’t mind, but it’s especially soul-crushing during a time when it’s crucial that we amplify artwork that is often ignored. Yet, the premier film awards ceremony on the planet appears ready to celebrate the same old tired shit.

How this relates back to The Walking Dead video on YouTube is simply that the fan video is a perfect representation of how I feel right now. I’m the series’ hero—stay with me—and I expected the first “death,” in that I never thought Manchester By the Sea would be anything more than basic. The second “death”—that La La Land was excruciatingly basic—came as a shock that broke me. It was painful enough that not one but two films not worth a damn were getting so much praise. I thought my suffering was finally over. But then Jackie, Arrival and Hell or High Water received a lot of undeserved praise that seemed like overkill. Just as that YouTube video was brutality for brutality’s sake, Toni Erdmann represents a cadre of films that seem overpraised just of the sake of overpraising them. All I can do is watch helplessly.

To give you an idea of just how relentlessly basic Toni Erdmann is, all I have to do is tell you about the plot. An uptight businesswoman (Sandra Huller) consumed by her work and distant from her family learns a new appreciation for life after her wacky prankster father (Peter Simonischek) shows up to rekindle their relationship. That’s it.

In a way, I’ve spoiled the whole film because its premise is so basic that if you already know it, then you know exactly how the film unfolds. “Toni Erdmann” is a character the father invents as part of elaborate prank, so now you know that, too, I guess. Nothing about the film stands out except for the runtime, which is a punishing 162 minutes. Imagine the most basic, paint-by-numbers Hollywood comedy that you possibly can, and then wonder what it would be like if the runtime was an hour longer than usual. That’s Toni Erdmann.

Sorry I didn’t spend more talking about the actual film, but the actual film didn’t leave me with much to talk about. I’m really just sad. At this point, another movie that doesn’t deserve it getting attention just feels cruel. By the way, if you’re one of the Toni Erdmann fans complaining about the film’s impending Hollywood remake: Screw you forever. It’s not like Toni Erdmann was the most original film ever made in the first place, using a frequently recycled plot, so I don’t want to hear anything about how Hollywood doesn’t have new ideas. Toni Erdmann doesn’t, either.

Grade = D


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