Winfried leaves Bucharest, disappointed but undaunted. Soon, Ines finds a new person chatting up her work companions at the bar. He introduces himself as Toni Erdmann, a consultant and life coach to Ines' CEO. Ines, and we, recognize Toni is Winfried in a cheap suit and funny wig. (In fact, he looks like someone trick-or-treating as John Travolta's character from "Pulp Fiction.")
When Ines confronts her dad, he doesn't break character. Being Toni, it turns out, frees Winfried to tell his daughter what he thinks of her career ambitions and icy demeanor. It also frees up Ines, who takes Toni's awkward truth-telling as a challenge to loosen up and be honest with her male superiors. (When one of them tries to compliment her and insult her simultaneously, and calls her a feminist, she replies, "I'm not a feminist, or I wouldn't put up with the likes of you.")
Ade's script constantly defies expectations and dodges predictability. She stages scenes — like when Toni goads Ines into singing Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" to a roomful of Romanians — that are epic in their comic awkwardness and raw emotional power. And, as a director, she coaxes brilliant performances from Simonischek as the teddy-bearish dad and Hüller as the exasperated daughter.
Toni's "life coach" shtick with Ines' bosses, who run a consulting firm hired to downsize a Romanian oil company so the owners don't have to be the bad guys, also serves to neatly satirize the banal corporate doublespeak that is slowly rotting Ines' soul.
Through his confrontational prankishness, it turns out, Winfried is on a rescue mission, not just to salvage his relationship with Ines but to save her from a miserable life. That mission, and the odd ways it plays out, makes "Toni Erdmann" the weirdest and warmest daddy-daughter date the movies have given us in a long time.