Toni Erdmann is a long, hysterically funny, deeply moving masterpiece

>>> German comedy about an impulsive retiree and his stressed-out workaholic daughter is as great as you’ve heard

TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade). 162 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (January 27). See listing. Rating: NNNNN

Everything you’ve heard about Toni Erdmann is true. It’s long (two and three-quarter hours), hysterically funny, deeply moving and features a show-stopping impromptu performance of a Whitney Houston song. It’s also a masterpiece.

Structured as a battle of wills between an impulsive retiree and his stressed-out corporate-consultant daughter, the film is a comedy of anticipation and anxiety as well as a heartfelt examination of two people trying to forge a proper connection after years of estrangement.

It’s your basic farce plot: after visiting his daughter Ines (Requiem’s Sandra Hüller) in Bucharest, where she’s working to close a lucrative deal, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) invades her professional world disguised as a life coach named Toni Erdmann, inventing increasingly unhinged challenges for her and refusing to break character.

Writer/director Maren Ade, who established her festival-circuit bona fides with the spare, astute interpersonal dramas The Forest For The Trees and Everyone Else, pivots brilliantly here, layering motivations and details into every scene so that no moment plays out on just one level.

It’s a comedy of escalating absurdity, as Ines copes with each new challenge. She even appropriates “Toni’s” confrontational strategy to address her shifting relationships with a colleague/lover (Michael Wittenborn) and an overtasked assistant (Ingrid Bisu).

But true to Ade’s earlier work, it’s also an incisive examination of people in crisis. Winfried and Ines’s relationship gives every interaction a palpable emotional undertow, building to a catharsis that’s as magnificent as it is unlikely. Also, there’s a Bulgarian hair monster.

No wonder people love it.

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