Hilarious ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ is Best Farce in Years

Saturday, August 7, 2010
By Kevin Crossman

Dinner for Schmucks pairs Steve Carell and Paul Rudd for the third time and the results are a hilarious film that is the best farce in years. After being part of ensemble casts in Anchorman and The 40 Year-Old Virgin, the two Frat Pack stars have joined forces with Meet the Parents director Jay Roach for an Americanized version of a French film, The Dinner Game (Le dîner de cons).

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd

The plot is fairly simple, with Rudd playing Tim Conrad, a financial analyst looking for a promotion to impress his art gallery girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak). After scoring a meeting with a rich Swiss playboy Mueller, Tim can lock up the promotion by bringing an idiot to his bosses dinner. The boss is played with smarmy charm by Bruce Greenwood, and Larry Willmore and Ron Livingston play two execs threatened by Tim’s ascention. Naturally, Tim’s girlfriend thinks the idiot dinner is unacceptable but Rudd does a great job portraying the internal conflict the character feels. Does he stay true to his girlfriend, or does his allow “work Tim” do some dirty work?

Enter Steve Carell as tax auditor Barry Speck with a hobby of taxidermy. Clueless, chaotic, and lonely, a “meet cute” scene puts Tim and Bruce together and sooner than you can say “the solution to all my problems” guess who has an invitation for dinner?  Carell has played dim before to wonderful effect in Anchorman, but Barry is a different sort of idiot. As we learn later in the film, there are reasons for his bizarre behavior and his focus on posing dead mice in romantic displays. I won’t spoil the rationale but will say that Carell sold me and I bought it.

The middle section of the film most closely resembles the French film and is centered at Tim’s apartment. There’s some excellent physical humor and through a series of misunderstandings Tim’s situation quickly spirals out of control. Some would argue this is not realistic: “There is no way Carell’s character would act that way.”  And those people would be correct. But, remember, this is a farce and things like that happen in these sorts of movies. In fact, Roach very much approaches the masterpiece of this genre, his earlier film Meet the Parents.

There are a number of crazy characters in Dinner for Schmucks. Jemaine Clement plays a self-absorbed artist who works with Julie, and his hedonistic musings form the basis of a number of good scenes with the two leads. Zach Galifianakis plays Carell’s boss Therman who uses mind control and a past history to belittle and humiliate Barry. He doesn’t steal the show this time, but at least he’s not playing a variant of his character from The Hangover. Lucy Punch chews the scenery as Darla, and obsessed former one-night stand of Tim’s who arrives at exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.

It would be easy to overanalyze every frame of Dinner for Schmucks and nit-pick the plot or the characters. But the performances by the actors and especially Rudd and Carell make it easy to overlook a flaw here or there. I’ve seen the French film and would say there’s much better physical comedy in Schmucks and it has the smart judgement to include the actual dinner itself in the film. The end-credits show the intention of the filmmakers to help us understand that there’s nothing wrong with laughing at idiots, because each of us is in idiot in some way.

Dinner for Schmucks also features the hallmark of great Frat Pack films, the bromantic relationship between the two male leads. Rudd and Carell have tread this road before, but the different kind of storyline and Carell’s different-enough character make the results especially satisfactory. Most importantly, I laughed early, often, and at times very very hard. That’s the hallmark of a great farce and Dinner for Schmucks is no exception.

5

6 Responses to “Hilarious ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ is Best Farce in Years”

  1. ASFan

    Was Rudd’s performance really that special? Sure, he did a decent job given how bland his character was, but it really wasn’t noteworthy.

    #3358
  2. Nathan

    I AGREE!!

    #3366
  3. Chris

    I haven’t seen this yet, but The Other Guys was great. I might have to wait to see this on blu-ray. I was really turned off by the trailers and tv spots. I did not laugh at any of them. I did enjoy some of the clips though.

    #3395
  4. Stevie

    I can’t wait to see this! I saw The Other Guys, and hated it. I didn’t laugh once. I hope this is good.

    #3419
  5. Kevin Crossman

    I don’t know that I called Rudd’s performance “special” and certainly tried to emphasize Carell’s as the better of the two. But I did think Rudd did a good job with what was sort of a thankless role.

    Not as showy
    “straight man”
    Seemingly nice guy who does bad things (but maybe for good reasons?)

    I thought Rudd did a good job with all of these, and in the second act was great with the physical humor.

    #3421
  6. ASFan

    I think it goes to show another case in the subjectivity of humor. I didn’t care much for Dinner for Schmucks, but I loved The Other Guys and I’ll be seeing it again.

    #3439

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