Lifeís too short; stop and smell the roses. Thatís the central premise behind the anointed ďToni Erdmann.Ē Simple, right? So why does it take a grueling 165 minutes to make the point? And hereís an even bigger query. Why are critics worldwide falling over themselves to heap praise upon a dramedy whose intentions most people will have pegged almost from the start? Beats me. Iíve now sat through it three times, hoping on each occasion to feel its alleged magic wash over me, but itís just not happening.

I do admire the chutzpah of Maren Ade in writing and directing a movie thatís as freeform as a jazzy jam session, changing directions like the wind. Moments of it are inspired, like an impromptu team-building exercise conducted in the nude and a whacked-out cocktail party at the American embassy in Bucharest, where a stressed-out daughter is both proud and mortified by the antics of her practical-joking father when he lets loose on a gathering of corporate prigs itching to lay off dozens of workers. But these touches of bliss come at the expense of expansive stretches of repetitiveness and staid humor. And they canít disguise what is essentially a familiar trope about an upwardly mobile woman furiously banging her head on the glass ceiling.

Then there are the instances where youíd swear Ade is taking her heroineís lofty ambitions to task, insinuating that the woman spends so much time and energy trying to get ahead, she forgets to have fun. Like thatís a crime. Would Ade do the same if the woman were a man? I doubt it. But thatís just an iota of the filmís problems. The most glaring would be Toni Erdmann, the boorish alter-ego of retired music teacher and avid jester Winfried Conradi. Veteran Austrian actor Peter Simonischek has a ball playing the bull in the china shop that is the life of Winfriedís uptight 30-something daughter, Ines (Sandra Huller), who canít seem to get ahead no matter how hard she tries.

She works in Bucharest for a giant consulting company specializing in downsizing. And as the lead rep on a lucrative account she hopes will finally earn her a ticket to her dream job in China, sheís repeatedly foiled by the blatant sexism exhibited by both her client and her bosses. Her love life ainít much, either, selling herself short by dating a weaselly colleague fond of sex acts involving petit fours. How could her life get any worse? How about an unannounced visit by Winfried, whose own life is in flux in the wake of his recent retirement and the death of his beloved dog? Let the cross-generational, father-daughter fireworks begin, as Dad opens his bag of comical tricks on a decidedly unreceptive Ines. She wants him to leave. He does. Well, at least Winfried departs. Taking his place is the aforementioned Toni Erdmann, who is just Dad outfitted in a horrid mop-top wig and a frightening bucktoothed mouth piece he inserts while pretending to be a life coach for some of Europeís biggest stars. Everywhere Ines goes, Toni is there, like a demented stalker, sabotaging her every groveling play to please her pompous client ó all in hopes of getting Ines to revert to the funny, carefree daughter she was as a child.

There it is. Thatís the movie. And it goes on and on and on; which might not have been so bad if Toni were something significantly more than just a blatant rip-off of Andy Kaufmanís obnoxious alter-ego, Tony Clifton, who Ade openly cites as an inspiration for the film. Therein lays the dividing line between those who find ďToni ErdmannĒ blissful and those who will view it as a chore. It you liked Tony Clifton, youíre the target audience. If not, stay away.

Those who fall into the camp of the former, readily claim ďToni ErdmannĒ is a hilarious, deeply moving father-daughter story that viciously satirizes the globalization threatening to destroy Europe. But the latter, me included, are merely perplex by all the buzz the film has garnered since debuting to rapturous audiences at last yearís Cannes Film Festival. Now, itís the frontrunner for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and soon to be an American-made film starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. I wish I could just understand why. Granted, Simonischek and Huller are terrific, share great chemistry and are utterly believable as father and daughter. But Ade pretty much lays them to waste by having the pair act out the same scene more than a dozen times. Only in the filmís final 10 minutes, when irony raises its bucktoothed head, does the filmís beaten-horse message resonate. In fact itís so good, it almost makes you forget about the 150 minutes you just wasted. Itís also at that time you realize it wasnít Ines getting punked by a looney old man, it was us.

ďToni ErdmannĒ
Cast: Peter Simonischek and Sandra HŁller. In German and English with English subtitles.
(R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use.)
Grade: B-