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Dinner for Schmucks - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Dinner for Schmucks [Aug. 5th, 2010|02:11 am]
We played hooky Tuesday afternoon and saw Dinner for Schmucks. And I have to admit that I laughed a lot, because it manages to be entertaining without actually being a good movie.

Before I go any further, I must disclose that I have an uneasy relationship with "stupid comedy" movies - I can't sit through any Adam Sandler movie except 50 First Dates, but on the other hand I think Dodge Ball is hilarious. National Lampoon's Vacation is hysterical, Talladega Nights is intolerable. I would try to analyze this razor-sharp line, but that would require far too much time watching movies I can't stand, so I refuse to do it. (The same goes for romantic comedies, the bulk of which I can't stand but for which I have exceptions that can't really be explained by their particularly outstanding quality.)

All that out of the way, I have been thinking on my reaction to Dinner for Schmucks, and the reasons that it does and doesn't work.

It works on the level that Steve Carrell is funny, and despite the fact that he is sometimes engaged in excruciatingly awkward behavior, he is still Steve Carrell and we are used to seeing him in such situations and that they will somehow work out. Carrell is this generation's Jerry Lewis - and I mean that in the best possible way. No matter how crazy his situation, he manages to remain affable through some rare alchemy. He is joined by Paul Rudd playing Tim, the same well-intentioned but misguided leading man that Rudd has worked successfully for several years. They make a good team because Rudd is really good at being the Everyman character. He's us - trying to figure out a mixed-up world, witnessing someone who is inscrutable and yet fascinating. He played against the same kind of character with Jason Segal in I Love You, Man, except Segal's character was Too Hip instead of Too Strange. It's good; it lets him do chemistry with a variety of characters.

But then...things fall apart because the creators of the movie got way too caught up on what nice people their characters are. We meet Tim's girlfriend, and she is a loving and caring person whose actions don't motivate Tim's behavior at all. The confusion plot that leads to the boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back is French farce in the worst sense of the term. In the end, Tim only learns that he's trying too hard, the girlfriend is a cipher, and Carrell's character doesn't change at all.

But that's not the uncomfortable part. The uncomfortable part comes when the dinner is actually taking place. Tim has attempted to call off his participation in the dinner, but it has galloped on despite his attempted gallantry. So he is watching all the antics at the dinner with the discomfort of a man who knows that this is wrong.

The thing is, the dinner is played for laughs - the biggest laughs of the movie. But the audience has been deprived of its point of view character, its Everyman. We are laughing, but Tim is not laughing. And because Tim is not laughing, our reaction is not his. Instead, it is the reaction of the asshole businessmen who are holding the dinner. We're even fed asides between them.

The audience is encouraged to be the bad guy. To abuse the poor fools brought to the dinner. To howl at their foibles.

But only until the good guys have the upper hand. And then we are expected to root for the people at whom we were just laughing. We are not shocked out of misguided loyalties, though. The creators apparently never considered this change of sides except that Tim pronounces his loyalty to the weirdos, and he is our Everyman, and there is never realization that the audience POV was compromised.

So, in the end, the film falls emotionally flat because there is no character arc, either for the characters or for the audience. It still manages to be sight-gag funny enough for laughs, but it's candy floss - a large mouthful ends up being an overly sweet grittiness in the back of the throat.

[User Picture]From: lurkerwithout
2010-08-05 12:15 pm (UTC)
From what I've heard the original French version of this is much, much meaner...
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-05 12:22 pm (UTC)
Yes, I imagine that it is. This is a very tamed version. It's still fun; it just doesn't go anywhere.
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[User Picture]From: fallconsmate
2010-08-05 07:36 pm (UTC)
i have to admit that i totally agree (while giggling) at the descriptions of movies you like and dont like. i politely say that i have short attention span for movies that are based around "this person does this type character really well" but jim carey also did a great job of "the mask". (and since my ex adores jim carey movies, i've left the room yet still be able to hear the audio on many an occasion.)

i've about given up on going to the movies. i just cant stand the loud volumes. hell, for the most part i can sit here reading online or a book and be ok with just the hum of the icebox. ;)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-05 07:50 pm (UTC)
I tend to remain in quiet when I'm alone, but there are certain projects that require sound so I don't go mad.
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[User Picture]From: kid_lit_fan
2010-08-05 09:44 pm (UTC)

I think Jim Carrey's best stuff is where he's mostly quiet and in (not-necessarily-requited) love; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Truman Show. I found The Mask worth sitting through once, but I've never felt a need to watch again.

As for Adam Sandler, zoethe, I have a guilty fondness forThe Wedding Singer. Drew Barrymore fixes a lot.

Except for Stranger Than Fiction, I hate Will Ferrell and all his works. And he was so freaking good in STF that I want to smack him and his evident usual fanbase every time he makes another of those Will Ferrellish movies.

Glad for your review, I was wondering, based on previews, if Dinner for Schmucks (and who let the goy who say "Smucks" do the voiceover?) was a stupid comedy or a smart comedy about stupidity. 40 Year Old Virgin and a number of Kevin Smith movies are smart comedies about stupidity, and I love those (40YOV had a sweet, life-affirming undertone that made it all the better.)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-05 11:09 pm (UTC)
40YOV is part of a movie trend of wildly crude movies with a very old-fashioned heart. I find the mixture of vulgarity and sweet story fascinating.

I tried Wedding Singer and couldn't get through it. I liked STF, I think Elf is really cute, but there isn't another movie of Ferrell's that I like.

Sorry, I'm too braindead for intelligent comment tonight.
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From: jennb45
2010-08-05 08:52 pm (UTC)
So, I actually saw this movie. But, I just couldn't get into it. And so it occured to me that this would have been a much better movie had we simply started at the dinner and been left to figure out what the heck was going on.

Same jokes, same stunts, same actors, but absolutely no starting context. That could have been a heck of a good time.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-08-05 08:53 pm (UTC)
The sincerity got in the way of the fun, no doubt.
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