Dinner for Schmucks
I was reluctant to give this film such a high score because it follows formulas that have been used in old ‘80s sitcoms – you know, the episode of “Saved by the Bell” or “Mr. Belvedere” where the cool kids at school invite the dorky girls to the dance to make fun of them. But there’s that one cool kid that feels bad about it and actually falls for the dorky girl, and the episode ends with a kiss while the studio audience goes “Oooooh.” The cool kid in DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS is Paul Rudd, a sixth floor analyst at a financial firm trying to make it to the seventh floor. His boss invites him to share in what he and the other executives call Dinner for Winners, but as the title of the movie implies, it is anything but. What allows this movie to transcend its formula are subplots hilariously acted out by great comic talent, most of which get more laughs than the dinner itself. The problems come with the conclusion and the limited usage of Paul Rudd’s talents, but other than that you will get a pleasant dinner with some colorful characters and some great belly laughs.
Rudd’s Tim has ideas to move up the corporate ladder, but as an audition his boss, played slyly by Bruce Greenwood, he must find a loser to be judged in this dinner. At first he is convinced to forgo the dinner by his girlfriend, Julie (played sparingly by Stephanie Szostak), but then he runs into Barry (literally), played ridiculously clueless by Steve Carell, and he can’t pass up the chance. Barry’s schmuckiness exists on many levels, but he’s always trying to help his new friend in the days before the dinner, which lead to disastrous misunderstandings with Julie. Barry’s key schmucky talent, however, is taxidermy – and he recreates classic masterpieces with dead mice. There is a riotous side story with Tim and a psycho ex-girlfriend, played great by Lucy Punch, and good laughs at the expense of the Swiss, but the let down is the dinner itself. We get to meet the collection of circus freaks the execs bring, but they are quick laughs that are either not used enough or just sophomoric. That and the awkward way the tables get turned on the executives are the shortcomings, but the film as a whole has many great laughs, and that’s what we’re there for, right?
Steve Carell does great things with Barry, making him an unbelievably clueless character that we believe in. He has a history that gets revealed through his mouse-terpieces, and when it is brought up his heartbreak is palpable…because we care about him. Other great laughs come from “Flight of the Conchords” Jemaine Clement is a great character as an artist working with Julie, and the scenes he gets, he owns – with hilarious dialogue and eccentricities. Another very funny character is played by Zach Galifinakis as a co-worker of Barry’s…with talents of his own. But Paul Rudd is not just a straight man, and posing him solely as such is a waste of talent. He played it straight in I LOVE YOU, MAN, but still was given comical lines to match Jason Segel. No such writing was given to him here, and that’s a shame. But the film still supplies copious amounts of comedy jokes that had many in the theater laughing out loud. This is a summer comedy worth a viewing.