You have to do this . . . or that . . . but meanwhile, life is passing you by.
Germans are perhaps not well known for their comedy and the two-hours-and-forty-minutes running time of this film will surely seem daunting. But this wonderful film is its own daffy kind of masterpiece. The very basic set-up is pretty clichéd; there’s a hard-charging businesswoman and a scruffy, silly father and they don’t get along. So far, so good, but Ade is a writer/director with a lot more on her mind that anything like a typical family comedy or even a typical family drama. The film is slow and methodical at building its characters and I’ll admit to getting restless at various points through the first hour or so, but by the time the film wrapped, I actually told someone that you couldn’t cut a single second without diminishing the film and I meant it. Ade does the hard work of character building so that, by the end, you know these two main characters of the father and the daughter right down to their bones and there are three scenes in the final forty minutes or so that are just brilliant and incredibly emotionally powerful because we know them. The film isn’t going for anything as clichéd as “uptight daughter learns to live again” or anything like that and both the father and daughter are deeply flawed; a large portion of the comedy in this movie is cringe-comedy (though not all of it) and those moments flow right out of the character of these people, not jokey jokes. The movie is also ultimately a very serious film when it looks at the flaws of these people and, most critically, I’d say, it is a movie that refuses to believe that real people have great epiphanies/character moments and then change forever. The characters in this film do change, but those changes don’t always take; a moment of real connection between father and daughter might happen and in most movies that would be a moment of serious rapprochement and the characters would be reborn, but in this movie, a tender moment might be followed up with a painful humiliation of one of the characters by the other. But neither of them are mean-spirited; they simply can’t help living their lives the way they want to live them and that pains the other person. Or, perhaps, they can help it, but won’t? Again, Ade isn’t giving us easy answers. This is a seriously complicated movie; character motivations aren’t clearly stated and the writing refuses to ever let us off the hook with an easy message or a heartwarming moment. But I don’t want to undersell how funny the movie is. There’s a scene in the last half-hour or so that had me literally screaming with laughter, along with everyone else in the theater. It’s just pitch-perfect, masterfully executed farce; I’ve rarely seen timing done this well. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was clutching my stomach and I laughed for at least a full minute without stopping. And, again, so much of the humor in that scene flows from character, not jokes. So, yes, it embraces real sadness, real frustration and real joy. It’s a brilliant masterpiece; yes, there’s already an American remake with Kristin Wiig and Jack Nicholson in the works, but see this one first. Sandra Huller’s performance as the daughter is a marvel and Peter Simonischek is also great as the father. A lot of times in these foreign films, I get introduced to actors that I never really get to see again because their other films don’t make it over to America; Sandra Huller in particular I really, really hope to see again; she’s just amazing. The American remake will destroy everything this movie gets right: it will hammer home its messages at their most simplistic; the performances will be broad and not nuanced at all; the graphic sexual humor will be completely toned down; the seriousness will be leached out of the movie and there will be no ambiguity. Everything will be stated overtly and it’ll all wrap up with a sweet, heartwarming ending. It’s going to be a disaster, so watch the original now. You’ll find nuance, layers, ambiguity, sharp observations and a movie that succeeds as both a sometimes bleak character study and a side-splitting comedy. This movie has only grown in my estimation with every passing day. It’s one of a small handful of serious contenders for best movie of 2016. What a wonder. 4 stars.
tl;dr – bleak study of flawed characters, fascinating breakdown of complex relationship, beautifully written drama, side-splitting comedy, a master-class in acting; this one is a film like no other. 4 stars.