Directed by Jay Roach
After leaving “Dinner for Schmucks” I felt incredibly torn. On one hand the film is painfully written as pertaining to both the depth of its characters and their relationships with one another. On the other, there are some very, very, funny lines and comedic situations, with the film living up to its farcical nature surprisingly well. What all of this means is that “Dinner for Schmucks” is a very hard film to critique. It’s both disappointing and funnier than it has any right to be.
I like Steve Carell, I don’t love Steve Carell, but I like him. Like many other comedic actors, he knows what he can do, and he does it well. He doesn’t often play a character that is too far removed from his comfort zone. And yes, even though Barry is probably the dumbest character Carell has ever played (and considering his roles, that’s really saying something) he’s essentially not any different from Michael in ‘The Office”. He’s simply stupider and kinder. Still, Carell embodies the role perfectly and squeezes every ounce of comedy that he can from both the dialogue and the broader slapstick comedy that he is called upon to perform. Now Paul Rudd, Paul Rudd, I love. Which makes it all the more disappointing to report that he’s pretty forgettable in this role. In fact, his character and his relationship with his girl friend is probably the weakest part of the movie. (This is not really Rudd’s fault as much as it is the screenwriters.) The script simply gives him absolutely nothing to do. Nothing. Not even jokes. Rudd is use to playing the straight man in basically any comedic duo, but through his charisma and pure likeability he’s always found a way to be as funny as men like Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen, and often times, funnier. But as I’ve said, this is sadly not the case here. It is only through the audiences already developed good will towards Rudd as an actor that they are able to connect with his character at all.
For anybody who has ever seen “Flight of the Conchords” it should come as no surprise that Jemaine Clement steals the show in this film. Every scene he’s in is hilarious and full of one-liners worth their weight in gold. It’s not so much what he’s saying that’s funny, but how he’s saying it. Clement could read the phonebook and make it sound funny. It’s only too bad that his character is so superfluous. There are two main plot lines going on in “Dinner For Schmucks”, the titular dinner with all of the “extraordinary people” and the disintegration of Rudd’s relationship with his girl friend. And while the two connect somewhat, they remain mostly separate. Unfortunately, all of Jemaine’s scenes take part in the “relationship” storyline so one is only left wondering what could have been had Jemaine been allowed to let loose at the dinner.
Zach Galifianakis also makes an appearance in the film and once again proves that he’s best used in moderation. (Which makes me worry about “Due Date”, his next comedy with Robert Downey Jr.) He’s a very funny and talented man, but his schtick gets old fast. In minor supporting roles he elevates everything he’s in. Anything bigger than that and he begins to work against the film. In the case of this film, the first scene he’s in is hilarious. When he reappears later on, he is far less effective.
So if you’ve taken the time to read this, you can probably understand why this film has split me so. A lot of other people will probably also complain about the film’s inherent cruelty towards what is essentially, handicapped people. And while I can see the merit in this argument, I don’t support it. In fact, I found the film to treat these “extraordinary people” with a surprising level of admiration. It quickly becomes apparent that the “Schmucks” in the title doesn’t refer to Barry and the other guests, but those throwing the party in the first place. I certainly recommend it for a view, there are far worse ways to kill a couple of hours, but I can’t guarantee total amusement.