Tim is the ultimate modern movie cliché - the guy who wants to climb the
corporate ladder and has the talent for it, but is basically too decent to
swim with the sharks. He's about to land the dream promotion in his firm, but
the last challenge thrown at him by his boss seems to be more than his
conscience can bear: he has to bring a date to a schmuck party. This event is
sort of a twist on the "pig parties" held by college frats, in which each guy
has to compete to see who can bring the ugliest date. In the
corporate variation, the winning date is not the most unattractive person, but the
Our boy Tim is in his car, just about to cancel out of the dinner, when he almost
runs over a pedestrian who had been bending over to pick up a dead mouse from a
busy city avenue. The two men talk briefly, and it turns out that the
pedestrian is an utterly clueless dunce who uses the dead mice to create
"artistic" representations of great works of art and great moments in history.
Tim concludes that it must some kind of sign from above that he should meet the world's
biggest schmuck at the very moment that he's trying to cancel out of a schmuck
competition, so he gets back in on the schmuck party, with the pathetically grateful
pedestrian as his date.
There are many marvelous moments in Dinner for Schmucks. Steve Carell is
quite funny as the schmuck, and Paul Rudd is excellent as his straight man. The mouse
tableaux are bizarrely inventive, existing somewhere in the no-man's land
where humor, pathos, insanity and genius compete for territory, a cinematic
normally reserved for Charlie Kaufman, the author of Eternal Sunshine. There are
some funny minor characters played by Larry Wilmore, Jemaine Clement,
and Zach Galifianikis, and let me give a special tip o' the hat to Chris O'Dowd, who plays a blind
swordsman at the actual schmuck party. Not many people could steal a comedy
scene from Zach Galifianakis and Steve Carell simultaneously, but O'Dowd pulls
off just such a coup!
Lots of good stuff.
And yet Dinner for Schmucks is not really a strong comedy. Why not? Because its too uneven.
Most comedies today maintain a consistent pace of blandly funny sit-com
humor. There are usually no great highs, but they generally don't get boring or
annoying enough to force viewers to start looking for the remote. This film,
however, is concocted from a very different
recipe. It's about 110 minutes long and about twenty of those minutes consist
of sheer genius. Unfortunately, you will have to sit through an hour and a
half of extremely annoying and boring clichés in order to find those inspired
moments. Because the film has so many good ideas and so many talented
performers, it keeps building up the audience's hopes with a great scene or a
really good line here and there, only
to dash those hopes by following those moments of inspiration with thirty minutes of dead air. I found myself laughing at loud at times, thinking I'd love the
movie. Fifteen minutes later, I'd have forgotten those great moments and would
be cursing the screen and fingering the fast-forward button. Then another funny
moment. Rinse and repeat if necessary.
Many critics complained about the sentimental turn at the end in which
Tim starts to regard the irritating dunce as a jewel of uncorrupted
innocence and sweet sincerity. That particular aspect of the film didn't
really bother me at all, because I felt that it evolved logically from the
characters' interaction. What did annoy me was the superfluous love story between
Tim and the woman he hopes
to marry. That is a by-the-numbers story arc which took up enough running time
to be its own movie. Of course the girlfriend is a decent person and thus opposes the schmuck party,
so there is a break-up when she discovers that Tim has decided to enter the
cruel competition after finding the perfect
schmuck. That in itself is not annoying, but all of the plot twists following
the break-up come from the standard rom-com playbook, which requires a
seemingly endless series of contrived
misunderstandings to prevent the lovers from
reconciling before the obligatory happy ending.
In other words, Dinner for Schmucks is essentially a tedious 90-minute
romantic comedy of no special merit other than it happens to be in the same
film with about twenty minutes worth of inspired lunacy. I loved the twenty, but hated the ninety.
Of course, if I had known all of that in advance, I would still have endured
all the crap to get to the strangely wonderful moments, so I have to be fair
and give the film a guarded recommendation.
But maybe that's just me to accept that trade-off.
Your mileage may vary.