As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This usually isn’t at all indicative of their quality – sometimes, we’re just a little Late To The Party.
Steve Carell’s knack for playing lovable idiots is legendary, and Dinner for Schmucks is essentially built around that specific notion. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) stars as Tim Conrad, a business executive trying to get ahead at work. After successfully impressing his boss, Tim is invited to dinner and instructed to bring a special guest. The general idea is to find an odd or eccentric person, bring them to dinner, and quietly mock them. The strangest or most pathetic guest wins a very sad prize at the end of the night.
As it would happen, Tim then meets a man named Barry (Carell). He learns that not only is Barry not particularly intelligent, but he spends his spare time posing taxidermied mice in elaborate dioramas. Knowing that the dinner is reprehensible, Tim finds himself torn between his morals and his career. In the meantime, he’s also forced to contend with Barry’s accidentally destructive friendship, which causes major issues in his relationship and career.
Dinner for Schmucks is based on French film Le Dîner de Cons. As a remake, it’s hardly going to score points for originality, but that’s not as much of a concern as it might seem. Armed with a handful of immensely talented comedic actors, Dinner for Schmucks has more than a few aces up its sleeve. As well as Rudd and Carell, the film features Zach Galifianakis, Jermaine Clement, Chris O’Dowd, Lucy Punch, and Kristen Schaal, which should speak to its genuine potential for hilarity.
Dinner For Schmucks Uses Its Stars Perfectly, But An Insensitive Premise Holds It Back
Steve Carell is able to bring Barry to life in a way that no other actor could. Being able to balance idiocy with sincerity is something that Carell does effortlessly, and it shines through in his performance. Meanwhile, Rudd plays the straight man to Carell’s comic foil, and the dynamic works perfectly. One is relatable but unlikable, and the other is objectively likable but exaggerated beyond plausible belief. This keeps Dinner for Schmucks grounded even as its story becomes increasingly ridiculous.
There’s no way around it: the film’s general premise is decidedly insensitive. By focusing on the idea that successful people enjoy laughing at those who are different, Dinner for Schmucks risks much and gains very little. However, its story gently negates that: it’s Barry who is the decent human being, and Tim eventually realizes as much. Even so, a great deal of comedy is derived from eccentric or unintelligent characters, making it all feel just a bit uncomfortable.
The question that Dinner for Schmucks poses is one about personal value and basic human compassion. This ultimately creates a very narrow black-and-white viewpoint on friendship and morality, but it still works. It’s hardly intelligent storytelling, but it gets its point across, throwing in a few laughs along the way.
Though Dinner for Schmucks might not be the most sophisticated or socially-conscious comedy out there, it’s decently entertaining. It allows its starts to play to their strengths, creating a handful of solidly memorable scenes in the process. It’s hardly Hall of Fame material, but it does its job reasonably well, and so deserves a little credit.
Summary: Dinner for Schmucks manages to deliver on its potential without relying on outdated stereotypes or unnecessary quirkiness. It simply uses the comedic talents of its stars well, and makes for an entertaining and unchallenging experience.
Highlight: Lucy Punch and Zach Galifianakis are stand-outs among the film’s exceptional cast, although Carell delivers the lion’s share of the laughs (as always).