Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Imperfect Erdmann

You know you love a movie when you pick up the double-sided promotional brochure available at the movie theater ... six months after you saw the movie. Not just one, but a handful of them, in case the others get damaged. (I saw my favorite movie of 2016 at MIFF in August, and it's only just opening at Cinema Nova tomorrow.)

But Toni Erdmann is not a perfect film ... as this brochure represents in a humorous and unintentional visual fashion.

Okay, first the brochure. Here, check it out.

Someone at Madman, the Australian distributor, failed to properly proofread this before they made several thousand copies of it. As you can see, the last name of the lead actress, Sandra Huller, didn't have enough room to complete and was continued on the (not present) next line. Never mind that they probably shouldn't even be using a format that allows for words to be broken up between two lines, as that will never be necessary on such a brochure. Simply looking it over would have prevented the error.

But it got me thinking of the larger issue of whether our favorite movies are always movies we consider to be "perfect."

I did give Toni Erdmann five stars on Letterboxd, one of only three films from 2016 I bestowed with such an honor (one of which didn't quite end up making my top ten of the year, actually). Five stars does seem to suggest perfection.

But you know what?

As little as I say that I felt the length of Toni Erdmann, I did -- once or twice. I distinctly remember a portion, probably around the hour forty-five minute mark, when I asked myself if Maren Ade could have tightened up the movie and still given us the same transcendent experience we were getting. Also, the scene people often cite as a standout for them -- when the aforementioned Ms. "Hul" sings Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" -- does comparatively little for me. You'd think that if I ranked a movie as my #1 of the year, everything would be clicking all the time.

There's something about the messiness of Toni Erdmann, though, that makes it perfect even in its imperfection. Or maybe it's that a two-hour-and-forty-minute German comedy with melancholy overtones could never aspire to perfection, by its very nature. Its imperfections are our imperfections, the imperfections of life. The flaws we see in ourselves are mirrored back to us by a movie like Toni Erdmann. But so are our strengths.

One thing I doubt will be perfect: the American remake. Tony Berman, or whatever they call it, will likely have little of what makes Ade's film special and a lot of what makes Hollywood films generic. It'll be shorter, no doubt, but the soul will likely be absent. It'll be a more "perfect" version of the story by having its imperfections ironed out, its running time shrunken to a tidy 100 minutes. But what we love about Toni Erdmann will likely be gone.

However, there is news of note just breaking today: Jack Nicholson appears to be coming out of retirement in order to play Peter Simonischek's role. I can certainly see that, and I can certainly see it working.

Then again, Nicholson will be 80 by the time filming starts (he turns that on April 22nd) so it remains to be seen how much he has left. That makes him only a decade older than Simonischek ... but that's a pretty important decade when you're an octogenarian.

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