It seems completely unbelievable to me that Steve Carell could have two movies out this summer, a huge profile in The New Yorker, Date Night recently out on DVD, and still think that his departure from The Office next year is no big deal. What is even more unbelievable to me is that Steve Carell is able to pull off his role in Dinner for Schmucks so well that I almost missed how terrible the rest of the movie is. Almost, but not quite.
In Dinner for Schmucks, Tim (Paul Rudd) is trying to get a promotion at work by impressing the clique of hot-shots at his office and winning over a big new client. He’s also trying to get his girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), to marry him. Meanwhile, Julie’s curating an art show by very strange, very macho Kieran (Jemaine Clement). When Tim is faced with the challenge of finding an idiot with a mockable talent to bring to a monthly dinner at his boss’s house, Julie is adamantly against it. Tim plans on listening to Julie until he hits Barry (Carell) with his car. Barry soon makes it clear that he is, in fact, an idiot. He also creates art with taxidermied mice. Tim takes the encounter as fate sending him just what he needs to succeed at the “Dinner for Winners.” Unfortunately for Tim, Barry is short on common sense and friends, but exceeds in terrible ideas and a drive to help, the combination of which enables him to quickly make chaos of Tim’s life. Now, Tim has to negotiate his conscience, his ambition, and his tolerance for Barry’s hijinx.
I was at once blown away by how stupid Dinner for Schmucks is and giggling my head off. While the basic premise of the movie, the “Dinner for Winners,” in which a trophy is given to the biggest idiot of the night, who is duped into thinking they are the most impressive guest (for positive reasons), is interesting, the subplots are so over-the-top that they are almost painful to watch. Kieran and his art are so bizarre I don’t really know what to make of them. At first the character seems like a lampooning of pretentious artists but then he goes so far out that he is less funny. There is also Tim’s one-nightstand, Darla, who three years later won’t leave him alone and is so shrill and insane she’s more horrifying than humorous. The client Tim is trying to impress, a Swiss millionaire and his wife, are painfully overdrawn caricatures of European stereotypes.
On the other hand, the cliquishness and cold behavior of the other men at the company are both a strong motivator for the plot and fun to watch in action. While bromance movies are really big these days, the performances of Bruce Greenwood, David Williams, Ron Livingston, and Larry Wilmore are kind of the antithesis of the genre.
Like I said before, only Steve Carell could have made this movie work at all. Somehow he is likeable enough that I want to ignore that he’s playing a character who is too stupid to be believable. His sincerity and “aww-shucks” quality made the rest of the movie bearable. Kristen Schaal also adds some humor as Tim’s assistant, Susana, who eggs on his ambition with an iron fist so that she too can move up to a better floor.
The actual dinner in Dinner for Schmucks was by far the best part. The other remarkable guests are hilarious and their interaction with one another is, shockingly, the least exaggerated humor in the movie. By the time dinner rolled around, however, I had lost my appetite, worn out by the idiocy of the rest of the movie. I wish it was a short film, showing just the dinner, rather than the two hour debacle that it is.
For its overwhelming messiness and incredibly stupid storylines, I rate Dinner for Schmucks 2/5 stars.
Dinner for Schmucks is directed by Jay Roach and written by David Guion and Michael Handelman, based on Francis Veber’s French film Le diner de cons (1998). It runs 114 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language.
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