Embarrassing dads don't come much more meaningful (or embarrassing) than the one in this German comedy. Running at nearly three hours, writer-director Maren Ade gives us a young workaholic professional German woman, Inès (Sandra Hüller), who’s on secondment to a multi-national company in Bucharest when her shaggy, ageing father Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a relentless practical joker, comes to visit for the weekend. That itself is totally out of character for Winfried – his usual comfort zone is greeting a startled postman on the doorstep while wearing false teeth and speaking in a funny accent. Then, after an awkward couple of days together, Winfried refuses to go home. He pops up everywhere that Inés goes in Bucharest, invading her life on the local business and diplomatic scene, wearing a wig and pretending to be a life coach called Toni Erdmann.
There’s nothing new about many of the concerns of this anarchic, moving German comedy: the growing gulf between parents and their adult kids; the conflict between work and family; the alienating, dehumanising nature of the modern workplace; the role of women in corporate culture; the economic direction in which modern Europe is heading. But the way in which Ade (whose last film was 2009's 'Everyone Else') tackles all these things is startlingly original, frequently hilarious and completely surprising at every turn. It's a rare film that makes you think deeply about the world around you while also making you laugh hard at scenes of nudity or a grown man walking down the streets wearing an oversized bear costume.
But that's the sort of freewheeling, inquiring, confrontational comedy that Ade has created. It's blessed with two excellent lead performances from the actors playing father and daughter (Hüller has a film-stealing scene in which she sings Whitney Houston's 'The Greatest Love of All' at a party). And the film’s no-nonsense, visually plain documentary-style of shooting feels utterly appropriate to its sly evocation of the absurdities and banalities of modern life. Just brilliant.