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German comedy ‘Toni Erdmann’ is an unlikely masterpiece

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Four and a half stars

Toni Erdmann Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn. Directed by Maren Ade. Rated R. Opens Friday at Regal Village Square.

Just last week, it was announced that the Oscar-nominated German comedy Toni Erdmann will be remade in English, starring Kristen Wiig and (in his first screen appearance since 2010) Jack Nicholson. Don’t wait. While the remake might turn out to be terrific, it’s unlikely to achieve the transcendent mix of hilarity and poignancy that writer-director Maren Ade wrings from her bizarrely goofy premise.

Set mostly in Romania, where Ines (Sandra Hüller) works as a consultant for oil concerns, Toni Erdmann consists of a war of wills between this ambitious, high-strung woman and her prankster dad, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), who impulsively flies out to visit her after his beloved dog dies. Or, rather, it consists of the war of wills between Ines and “Toni Erdmann,” Winfried’s ludicrous alter ego, who wears blatantly false teeth and a fright wig while alternately claiming to be a life coach and the German ambassador.

Toni’s well-meaning efforts to cheer Ines up lead to various uproarious situations involving everything from handcuffs to full frontal nudity. The beauty of Toni Erdmann, however, is the way that it weaves its big laughs into a tapestry that also takes Ines’ career frustrations—which are largely a result of ingrained corporate sexism—very seriously. The result is perhaps 2016’s most richly human movie, in ways that seem nearly impossible to replicate. Good luck, Hollywood.

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