Friday, July 30, 2010
Movie review: Dinner for Schmucks
Dinner with Schmucks is not the full-on laugh riot that it could’ve been, but for a late-summer entry, it’s more than good enough.
The basic premise of Dinner for Schmucks (which is based on a French film, Le Diner de Cons) is actually a tad off-putting. A group of co-workers put on a dinner every month to which they each bring a guest of questionable intelligence for the purpose of making fun of the so-called idiots. Now, mean-spirited comedies are nothing new, but could this film be perhaps a little too mean-spirited for its own good?
However, those fears are counteracted by the fact that the film stars Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, seemingly two of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Even if the script veered toward cruelty, each of them has such a fantastic delivery that it naturally takes the edge off of whatever they’re saying. Rudd plays Tim, an up-and-comer at the financial company for which he works. Thanks to a brilliant idea involving a Swiss millionaire, he’s on the verge of joining the upper echelon of the company. The only hurdle left is the titular dinner, which will truly show his bosses if he is “one of them.”
Serendipitously (or not), Barry (Carell) enters the picture. A loner who has an obsession with collecting dead mice, stuffing them, and posing them in all manner of situations, Barry seems like the perfect candidate for the dinner. In fact, he’s too perfect – his idiocy knows no bounds, something which Tim soon discovers. Barry manages to insert himself in almost every aspect of Tim’s life, whether it’s mistaking Tim’s girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), for a girl who’s been stalking him, convincing Tim that Julie is having an affair with Kieran (Jemaine Clement), a highly eccentric artist whose shows she curates, or accidentally subjecting Tim to an audit by introducing him to his IRS co-worker, Therman (Zach Galifianakis), who’s no brainiac himself.
Thankfully, the build-up to the dinner comprises the majority of the film, giving the audience plenty of time to enjoy the hilarious back-and-forth between Rudd and Carell. Carell has such a guileless face that even when he’s acting like a complete fool, you can’t help but root for him. Barry’s screw-ups are never malicious, so although some of his deeds have bad consequences, even Tim can’t stay angry at him. On the flip side, Rudd is the ultimate comedy straight man – his reactions to Barry’s zaniness are priceless, and help keep the momentum going throughout. Tim also has doubts about going through with the dinner, which helps the audience from feeling guilty about any hurtful things he does.
The dinner itself is actually somewhat of an anti-climax – having enjoyed Barry’s unique brand of inanity for most of the film, it’s hard to muster any kind of enthusiasm for people like “guy with a weird beard” and “woman who talks to dead animals.” What saves it is a showdown between Barry and Therman – Carell and Galifianakis commit to the scene so completely that it’s breathtaking (‘cause you’ll be gasping with laughter). Tim’s co-workers (headlined by Ron Livingston, Larry Wilmore, and Bruce Greenwood) each have their moments, but they’re the designated “bad guys,” and in this film, that means they’re essentially non-entities.
I’m sure some credit should go to director Jay Roach and co-writers David Guion and Michael Handleman, but it’s hard to imagine that the film would’ve worked the same had it not starred Carell and Rudd. Dinner for Schmucks is not the full-on laugh riot that it could’ve been, but for a late-summer entry, it’s more than good enough.