Dinner for Schmucks (Review)

Dinner for Schmucks (Review)

Sep 30, 2010
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Dinner for Schmucks
Genres:  Release Date: 30/09/2010 Runtime: 114 minutes

As the title implies, Dinner for Schmucks is a film that asks us to spend 114 minutes in the company of people we don’t particularly like. Because really, that’s the definition of a schmuck; people who irritate us, frustrate us and whose mere presence makes us wish were somewhere, anywhere else.

And hey, if that’s the kind of experience director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) wants from his remake of Francis Veber’s French farce The Dinner Game, then all the power to him. He’s done a bang-up job.

But if Roach’s intention was to actually make us laugh, then there is a bit of an issue, because the thing about watching incredibly annoying people do incredibly annoying things is that it tends to be – surprise! – incredibly annoying.

The flimsy but workable premise concerns nice-guy Tim (Paul Rudd), who in an effort to get a long sought-after promotion, accepts an unusual dinner invitation from his boss that requires him to bring along someone with a “special talent” – code for an A-grade idiot – so that they can be ridiculed for entertainment. By chance, Tim bumps into the blissfully ignorant Barry (Steve Carrell), a taxation officer by day and rodent taxidermist by night, who is so far beyond stupid, it’s nothing short of a miracle he’s still among the living.  He’s the perfect specimen for the dinner, but Barry shows up at Tim’s apartment a day earlier and won’t leave, systematically but unintentionally making his life a living hell. Ours too.

Schmucks, more so than Roach’s earlier films Meet the Parents and its sequel Meet the Fockers, belongs to that mangy breed of American comedy that confuses situations that are genuinely funny for situations that are agonizingly awkward. Such discomfort stems from the fact that these situations cannot decide whether they’re based in the real world or an absurdist one. They’re stuck in limbo because Hollywood, in an effort not to offend a single soul willing to spend money on a movie ticket, wouldn’t dare make a flat-out farcical comedy that runs the risk of alienating wallets.

But therein lies Schmucks’ dilemma; absurdism hasn’t room for half-measures. When making a farce, authentic characters, realistic scenarios, moral lessons and happy endings should be left at the door. Schmucks insists on having all of these things, thus undermining its every attempt to be bitter and bizarre.

The biggest victim here is Paul Rudd (Role Models, I Love You, Man). Rudd is a tremendous comedic actor, a master of deadpan delivery, whose talents are completely squandered as he is forced to play it straight as Mr. Every Man. This is a mistake; he shouldn’t be so relatable and grounded. We’re then asked to sympathise with Tim’s desire to get a promotion so that he can woo his girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak; The Rebound). This is also a mistake; he shouldn’t be so likeable and honourable. That just makes us loathe Barry, the aforementioned schmuck, for putting Tim in a position where he risks losing his girlfriend, his job and his sanity. We like the guy, so why on Earth would we want to see his life crumble?

Perhaps if Rudd was allowed to go as off-the-wall crazy as Carell (Despicable Me, Date Night), their screen partnering mightn’t have been so frustrating. To be fair, Carrell has the right kind of goofy energy as Barry, he’s just made so hopelessly irritating because he’s messing about in an absurdist movie while Rudd is stuck back in reality. As such, the most enjoyable moments to be had in Schmucks involve the wacky supporting characters; Jemaine Clement (TV’s Flight of the Conchords) as the existential and self-absorbed artist Kieran, Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Up in the Air) as the nutty IRS agent Therman and Octavia Spencer (The Soloist, Halloween II) as the animal clairvoyant Madam Nora. The writing is never witty enough for these characters to garner more than a chuckle, but they do represent the film’s farcicality at its best.

The rest of the time, though, Dinner for Schmucks sucks.

Dinner for Schmucks (Review), reviewed by Anders Wotzke on 2010-09-30T14:25:50+00:00 rating 1.5 out of 5
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  • The informed teen

    This review is actually quite vague, I went to it and it was actually pretty funny. The key to its comedic factor is the stupidity of certain characters and events that they make occur. If I were to review it there would be a 3.5 star review. The person who reviewed this certain movie must be void of humor or imagination.

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  • seenit

    Check again. It does in fact suck.

  • Brad

    The reviewer is actually the one who’s confused. Like the show The Office, the purpose is actually create scenes that are both painfully awkward and hilarious at the same time. Often, the awkwardness is experienced while watching it, and the hilarity is understood in retrospect.

    Then again, some people don’t like The Office either. Those people are nitwits with no sense of humor.

    • Grem

      Absolutely agree.

      “Such discomfort stems from the fact that these situations cannot decide whether they’re based in the real world or an absurdist one. They’re stuck in limbo because Hollywood, in an effort not to offend a single soul willing to spend money on a movie ticket”
      -Um no. Like you say it is similar to the office, intentionally awkward and thats what makes it funny. I enjoyed the film, probably because I enjoy the office. The best part is when you have friends that cant stand the awkwardness, then it is really funny.

  • sebastien

    just to say, Dinner for Schmucks is actually an adaptation of a French film from the late 90s and so saying that it “belongs to that mangy breed of American comedy” is highly inaccurate, French comedy is generally based around creating awkward situations that you would not like to find yourself in and simply laughing, it’s like watching somebody slip on a banana and get hurt, you wouldn’t like to be the one to slip, but you just can’t stop laughing from seeing it happen. Just read what Brad commented :)
    The original French version is “Le diner des Cons” and they actually did a very good and even made it better in my opinion because the French version does not actually go through with the dinner.
    If you haven’t seen it, watch it.

  • Bacon

    This review was EXACTLY why I couldn’t like the movie as much as I wanted to. Dead on. I loved Paul Rudd’s character so much I just sat there the whole time watching Barry ruin his life going ‘Punch him. Hit him. Beat that fucking idiot up. HIT HIM!’

    And then at the end they try to get me to feel sorry for Barry? No. I didn’t. Sorry. Barry can die in a fire.

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