DIR: Jay Roach • WRI: David Guion, Michael Handelman • PRO: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, Jay Roach • DOP: Jim Denault • ED: Alan Baumgarten, Jon Poll • DES: Michael Corenblith• CAST: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak
Dinner for Schmucks is based on the 1998 Francis Veber film Le Diner de Cons (The Dinner Game). Directed by Jay Roach the film has the same air of discomfort as Roach’s previous offering Meet the Fockers, leaning more towards the farcical side of comedy.
It tells the story of Tim (Paul Rudd), who is on the verge of having the perfect life. After impressing his bosses, he is offered the opportunity to earn a promotion to his dream job, with one catch. He is expected to participate in what his superiors refer to as their ‘Dinner for Winners’, where guests are asked to bring along an interesting person for their co-workers to laugh at. Enter Barry (Steve Carell), a man with a passion for taxidermy and dressing mice up in handmade outfits to create ‘mousterpieces’. When the two meet Tim is convinced he’s found his meal ticket, before Barry starts pulling his life apart at the seams. At the very start of the film, Tim seems to have it all. He drives a sports car, lives in a luxury apartment, and carries around an expensive engagement ring for his gorgeous girlfriend. Understandably this is the set up of his enormous fall from grace but it makes it harder to feel sorry for him when things do start to fall apart. It’s the same lack of sympathy people feel for contestants on Who Wants to be a Millionaire who get a little bit too greedy.
Steve Carell and Paul Rudd have worked together previously on The 40 Year Old Virgin, and Anchorman, but in their previous films they didn’t have as much on-screen time together, so it was interesting to see how their dynamic changed. Their characters were similar to those we’ve seen previously with Rudd as the seemingly self-assured alpha male and Carell as the grown-up nerd. In Dinner for Schmucks however they didn’t quite manage to make the characters as likeable or endearing as previous films. Jemaine Clement stole the spotlight as Kieran, a self-obsessed photographer known for his animal magnetism as much as his art. His character is deadpan and oblivious to just how ridiculous he is, which did create a nice contrast to Carell’s over the top antics.
This is a different kind of comedy than we’re used to seeing these two produce. Rather than relying on pithy dialogue and ad-libbing it’s a lot more physical. A few times the film tried to transition from being slapstick to having long sections of dialogue which did skew the pacing a little. When this was done well it created some great moments where I almost felt myself blushing on their behalf, in others it just felt uncomfortable. Rudd and Carell are both naturals at physical comedy, but the funniest scenes for me were the more original elements. The opening scene where Barry is working on his ‘mousterpieces’ was almost macabre but incredibly simple and hilarious.
Comedy is a very personal thing, and if you’re a fan of the Roach’s talent for creating cringe-worthy moments than Dinner for Schmucks will be just the ticket. If you’re expecting it to be the next Anchorman however, you will be sorely disappointed.