Jay’s final verdict on Dinner for Schmucks
Yeah, I know. I’m long overdue with my recap on “Dinner for Schmucks”. I saw the movie a few weeks ago, and I’ve been meaning to come back and tell you my thoughts. I’d love to tell you that the delay was because I took some deep, introspective journey into my own psyche as I questioned the deep, existential message that this movie offered.
Truth is, I just got busy with work. The season of video games is just around the corner, and that means more and more long nights for me. C’est la vie, though. There are worse problems to have.
Anyway, let’s talk Schmucks. In case you forgot, I let the Internet decide if I should see the movie or not. And after their votes suggested paying to see this in the theater (the full priced theater, at that), I submitted to the will of the people.
The truth is, it’s not half bad; the problem is, it’s also not that good.
That sentence is the best summation you’ll get out of me. You can read more about the movie in my spoiler-free elaboration after the break, detailing what the movie did wrong, and the two things it does right.
While there’s a lot that Dinner for Schmucks fails at, there’s one big problem that stands out among the rest, and it’s right in the title. If you’re aware of the movie, if you watched the trailers, if you saw a commercial… well, you get the movie. Guy needs to find the biggest idiot he can, guy needs to bring said idiot to dinner where other guys bring other idiots, and the biggest idiot at the party wins. And as a result, you spend most of the movie just waiting for the dinner.
Now, I won’t lie. The dinner sequence is funny in a totally awesome way. I laughed so hard that at one point, I was afraid I had managed to convulse one of my contacts right out of my eyeball. Turns out, I’d just teared up so much from laughing.
But before you get to the dinner sequence, there’s about 70 minutes of material that’s largely boring. That hour-plus of material leading into Dinner is less a piece of film foreplay and more like a painful tease, promising comedy and failing to deliver. It’s not even a sense of anticipation as much as that first hour of content is so lifeless and lacking compared to the Dinner.
Personally, I attribute most of that to Paul Rudd. Normally, I love his work. I think he’s a great actor and can do some great stuff if he’s got the right material. But here, Rudd’s character is just generic. There’s nothing to make him sympathetic as a protagonist, there’s no driving reason to hate him. He’s bland, he’s boring, and that’s no good for a main character. You could replace him with any number of other actors and the film would be better off.
It also doesn’t help that the story offers a very clichéd storyline about Rudd’s characters girlfriend, trying to make you wonder if she’s cheating on him or not. If you’ve seen any number of romantic comedies or sitcoms, you’ll sit down and figure out that element of things in the first 20 minutes. It’s just so derivative that it practically stands up and slaps you, Rick James style.
Now, let’s talk about what the film gets right.
First, there’s Steve Carell. He’s the comedy Atlas here, carrying the weight of the film’s hysterics almost entirely on his own shoulders. And he does it well. His timing, his delivery, his performance, they’re all the hallmarks of a comedy legend. This film exists because of him, and if you were to take out Carell and replace him, the film would be at a drastic loss. I found myself laughing at him more times than I expected, at low-brow jokes that I wouldn’t normally find funny. Only here, they’re gems, because Carell doesn’t just languish in low-brow’ness, he wraps it around himself and wears it like a proud cape.
And as the heart of the film, the nature of the film, it would be easy for Steve Carell to just be funny and leave it at that. But Carell did something I wasn’t expecting: He presented a character that was sympathetic.
Throughout the movie, Carell’s character is working on his Mousterpieces, little dioramas that recreate life using dead mice that he stuffs, poses, and dresses. Some of them are hilarious. But at the halfway point in the movie, you’re given a revelation into his taxidermy’d creations that brings up a light bulb in your head and presents you with a whole new side of the character that Steve Carell’s playing. And that revelation was both heartwarming and depressing. It made me so happy to see that there was a depth to the character, a heart, a man of compassion. And yet, I found myself feeling bad about laughing at his character, if only for a brief moment, because of the kind of pain and suffering that this character goes through.
And yet, 10 minutes later, I was laughing again. Carell slips between likable’y sweet and laughably stupid like they’re two comfortable sweaters he has lying around.
The second piece of success in the film is the casting of Zach Galifianakis. He’s not quite a co-star, and he only shows up for a 15 minute collective patch in the movie. But holy gods, is this man incredible. Watching him and Carell in the same sequence is an absolute joy, and although I’ve never seen Zach in a full feature film before, I quickly gained an earnest respect for him as a comedian. It actually made me somewhat willing to finally getting around to watching The Hangover.
Once you take out Galifianakis and Carell, the rest of the movie is just… blah. There’s so little redeeming aside from those two comedians. Dinner for Schmucks has a very average story, and it almost feels like the script is wasted on such great talent. Paul Rudd, in particular, is done a huge disservice here.
But this also isn’t a bad movie. It’s just… OK. It entertained me, but I’m not sure it was entirely worth the $5 ticket I paid for.
So, in short, the movie was “Just OK”. And if nothing else, it’s worth watching just for the last 20 minutes. But I can’t see this becoming a massive favorite, or even a cult classic. It’s almost like those comedies you see on TBS at 2pm on a Saturday. Mindless, with a few laughs, and not much need to be anything important.