Jul 2010 30

There are times that you just know you’re brought to a dinner to be the focal point of attention. A roast. An awards ceremony. As the stripper in a cake.

But enough about my 12th birthday. What if you were brought to a dinner as the entertainment without realizing it?

Based on the French film The Dinner Game, Jay Roach’s latest film, Dinner for Schmucks, touches on some of the baser human behavior but still manages to keep the film and its protagonist likable. Although the film doesn’t approach the humor and quality of The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Anchorman, this is another entertaining vessel for Paul Rudd and Steve Carell.

As my comely movie-going companion Erin and I sat in our seats (coincidentally bumping into two other friends, Brittney and Adam), we were treated to karaoke. By “treated” I mean subjected to. By “karaoke” I mean the audio equivalent of Chinese water torture. But it was an entertaining gimmick in the spirit of the film.

Tim Conrad (Rudd) is an analyst for Fender Financial. He’s currently dating Julie (the lovely Stephanie Szostak), who’s curator of a gallery for the artist Kieran (the always entertaining Jermaine Clement). He desperately seeks her approval and proposes to her, but she’s not ready to commit. To show he’s worthy, he’s seeking a promotion by courting a potential wealthy investor, Muller (David Walliams) to put $100 million into his firm.

In order to earn the chance, he has to bring an idiot to a dinner, someone the entire table can ridicule. Because clearly, the way to judge who you should trust with large amounts of money is to see what kind of idiot he can bring to a dinner party. Just ask BP. When he introduces Barry (Carell), an eccentric man who works for the IRA and in his spare time builds dioramas depicting mice in everyday life, to the front end of his Porsche while driving it, he thinks he’s found his man.

As you can probably guess, the rest of the film is essentially a comedy of errors from which Tim and Barry must untangle themselves. The dimwitted but well-meaning Barry inadvertently causes Julie to think Tim’s having an affair with Darla (Lucy Punch), a slightly obsessive past fling of Tim’s. In his attempt to help fix the problem, Barry ends up making the situation progressively worse and almost pushes Julie toward Kieran. By the end, however, Tim realizes Barry is a good guy and must weigh his desire for the promotion with his increasing fondness of Barry all the while trying to get Julie back.

As I admitted to Erin, I didn’t really expect this to be a romantic comedy. I figured with Carell and Rudd along with Zack GalafinGallifnGalifianakis (thank God for wikipedia), it’d be more of an oddball slapstick comedy.

There certainly isn’t anything groundbreaking in the film. Rudd plays the typical sardonic deadpan character he usually does, while Carell is a zany,  dimwitted but ultimately well-meaning and kind-hearted goofball. He plays it well, as if he’s done this type of character before or something.

The film does deliver on the humor, though; it’s absolutely hilarious. There are some parts that are so awkward I found myself cringing, but the film really gets going in the second half. Rudd and Carell work well together, and the supporting cast is quite strong as well, with Ron Livingston and Kristen Schaal turning in good performances.

There’s a lot to like about this movie. As I said earlier, it’s not too innovative, sorta like vanilla ice cream. But if you can dress it up well enough, you can get a pretty damn good sundae. Rudd, Carell, and supporting cast are this sundae: ordinary flavors on their own, but delicious when you put them in your mouth at the same time.

God, that came out wrong.

Dinner for Schmucks gets a B.


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