|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.