Friday, July 30, 2010

Dinner For Schmucks, or Recipe for Awkward Pie

Director: Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers)
Script: David Guion and Michael Handelman (The Ex), based on Francis Veber’s Le Diner de Cons
Starring: Paul Rudd (Role Models), Steve Carell (The Office), Stephanie Szostak (The Devil Wears Prada), Ron Livingston (Office Space), Jemaine Clement (The Flying Concords), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek), Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz) and David Walliams (Little Britain)
Run-Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: Friday, July 30th, 2010
Rating: PG-13

Take one exasperated everyman, one ludicrously attractive French woman, a brilliant character actor, and put them in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle a handful of “I Know That Person From Something, But What?” Stir well. Bake for 114 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool. Serves many.

THAT, dear reader, is a recipe for hilarity, a recipe cooked to perfection in Dinner For Schmucks, a comedy I found very hard to classify. It’s part romantic comedy, part dark comedy, part buddy comedy. Select pieces from each of this have been blended together to great effect.

The movie centers around Tim (Rudd), a business executive who wants to move up the corporate ladder, and the recent firing of a guy on the coveted ‘seventh floor,’ coupled with a ballsy suggestion at a meeting immediately following said firing, presents him with the perfect opportunity to do so. The big boss of his company, Lance Fender (Greenwood) and two fellow upward-minded executives (Livingston and Larry Wilmore who played the memorable role of Mr. Brown in early seasons of The Office) invite him to their annual ‘Dinner for Winners,’ a dinner where all the executives bring somebody who is a massive loser and compete for the top spot. If Barry wins, that office up on seven is his. Of course, his super-hot French art curator girlfriend Julie (Szostak) thinks that the very idea of the dinner is awful. Tim reluctantly agrees and puts it behind him, which lasts until he hits Barry (Carell) with his car almost immediately after. That’s when the movie begins to shine.

As Tim refers to him in the trailer, Barry is a force of nature. Barry, from almost the very moment he’s introduced, manages to make his new friend Tim’s life harder and harder. The situations he manages to get into are quite possibly some of the most awkward moments in cinematic history and Carell executes every line with such incredible skill it makes Michael Scott look like a rookie. My favorite scene occurs during the important meeting with a potential investor, the ultra-rich, ultra-Swedish Müeller (Walliams). Every moment of the scene from the moment Barry shows up was a teeth-grinding endurance test of awkwardness.

The titular dinner itself happens surprisingly late in the film. By the time the dinner actually happens, I felt like I’d already seen almost a full, contained, conflict-resolution movie already. This is not a bad thing. The dinner is a climax of climaxes, full of recognizable faces and ridiculous situations.

One notable Schmuck cameo is ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. I am no big fan of Dunham, but instead of his usual ‘normal guy with wacky dummies’ routine, he plays a mustachioed man married to an overbearing female dummy. While his actual screen time is short and sweet, it is memorable and I was pleased rather than annoyed.

The interactions between Barry and self-proclaimed mind-controller Therman (Galifianakis) are some of the best, most ridiculous moments of the film and the snippets shown in the trailer barely scratch the surface. The two play off of each other very well, and it’s nice to see two of my favorite funnymen square off in such a ludicrous fashion.

Other highlights include modern artist Kieran (Clement) and his romantic rivalry with Tim, Tim’s stalker Darla (Punch), and Tim’s assistant Susana (Fellow Flight of the Concords cast member Kristen Schaal). Aside from the majority of the executives, there’s almost no characters wasted. Everybody plays their role with panache and it’s a non-stop delight to see the trail of destruction Carell leaves in his wake.

By far the most stand-out part of the film, however, are the dioramas (mousterpieces) Barry creates using mice he taxidermies himself, puts in little outfits, and poses. My hat goes off to the art and special effects departments for creating such hypnotizing pieces of bizarro beauty. Every scene these 'mousterpieces' appear in are breath-takingly surreal, especially the opening credits where they're coupled with a Beatles song.

In conclusion, the ingredients of this movie come together to create an awkward comedy meal you’ll be glad you ate. If you’re anything like me, you won’t mind going back for seconds.

Fun Fact: If you’re wondering where you’ve seen Lucy Punch’s character Darla before, it may well have been in Hot Fuzz. She played Eve Draper, the thespian with the laugh so annoying she lost her head over it.

Trailer Pick of the Night: Rango

If nothing else, this computer-animated movie from Nickelodeon will be a surreal odyssey through a desert full of anthropomorphic animals told through the eyes of the titular Hawaiian shirt-clad chameleon, as voiced by Johnny Depp. With a voice cast also featuring Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy and Timothy Olyphant, we should all be in for a family-friendly mind-f*ck next March.

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