Friday, April 29, 2011

Dinner for Schmucks

Directed by Jay Roach.
2010. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Steve Carell
Paul Rudd
Stephanie Szostak
Zach Galifianakis
Jermaine Clement
Bruce Greenwood
Lucy Punch
Ron Livingston
Larry Wilmore

After one of his co-workers is fired, Tim (Rudd) joins the mad dash to replace the guy in hopes of a raise and a large office on the 7th floor. He comes up with an idea to potentially lure a huge client which makes himself the prime candidate for the promotion. To seal the deal, he not only has to land the client, he has to attend a very special dinner at the boss’ house. What makes it special is that it is the annual “Dinner for Winners.” The “winners” are really people that the execs at the company think are idiots. Each of them must bring one such person that they will all make fun of. At the end of the night, they give a trophy to whoever they deem is the biggest idiot. However, they call him or her the most extraordinary person and never let them in on the joke. Tim’s dilemma is that the girl he’s been practically begging to marry is appalled at the idea and wants him not to go.

To complicate matters, a person that fits the bill to a tee practically falls into his lap. In a case of neither guy paying as much attention as they should, Tim hits Barry (Carell) with his car while Barry is trying to pick up a dead mouse he’s spotted in the street. It turns out he uses the deceased critters to create his artwork. Some of it is original, some are replicas of already famous pieces of art. Think “The Mona Lisa,” only using a rodent instead of a woman. Of course, Tim invites Barry to that special dinner. From that point on, Tim’s life is turned upside down.

A huge chunk of the movie proceeds as follows: Barry does something dumb and/or presumptious with predictably catastrophic results. Tim yells at him. He tries to help fix the problem, but makes it worse. Some of it is funny, a lot of it isn’t. There is also the subplot of Tim’s girl Julie (Szostak) possibly sleeping with over-sexed and eccentric artist Kieran (Clement). Things finally take a turn for the better when we meet Barry’s boss Therman, played brilliantly by Zach Galifianakis. The intense gaze on his face and his cheesy magician’s mannerisms are perfect. Almost all of the funniest scenes in the movie involve him. This includes the “pudding” joke which has a perfectly orchestrated delayed effect.

Galifianakis doesn’t show up until late in the second act. He elevates the movie to the level of watchable, at least while he’s on the screen. He can’t make the ending acceptable, largely because we know what’s coming right from the start. The bigger issue is we can’t quite muster up the sympathy needed to make it work. We can’t because even though Barry is certainly pathetic enough, he’s not likeable enough. The problems he’s caused can’t be attribute to naivete even though that’s what we’re supposed to believe. They’re things that, if I were Tim, would’ve caused me to try and do him bodily harm. In other words, we don’t feel bad when Tim makes him feel bad. We think he deserves it. The effect on the movie is that we don’t really care how it turns out, we just want it to end.

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