Saturday, August 14, 2010

At the Movies: Dinner for Schmucks

I thought it was high time I provided my readers with some borrowed visuals when appropriate. If only to add photographs other than my own to the mix.

All summer long, I've been waiting for the movies. For the blockbusters and comedies that give summer its excitement and sparkle. But after Sex and the City II came out in May, June melted into July with nary a prospect, and I resigned myself to the sad truth that there would be nothing to see.
And then came August. Instead of winding down with a cold buffet of B offerings, summer finally came into its own, unleashing a smorgasbord of possibility in Dinner for Schmucks (I know it came out at the tail end of July, but for the purposes of my argument, that works too); The Other Guys; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Eat, Pray, Love; The Switch; and The Distance. Now, I know you must be thinking, "What?! These are the movies for which you've been waiting?" I know, I know. Most of them aren't stellar, in and of themselves. But together they present a united front of much-needed, light-hearted summer fare, offering choices where none existed before. I'm someone who likes to go to the movies. A lot. And quite frankly, I don't expect to have a religious experience each time. I'm just looking to be entertained. I want comedies (and sometimes dramas), and lots of them, even if they turn out to be merely lukewarm.
So, last night I decided that the bf and I should venture out and see one of these contenders. I was torn between Dinner for Schmucks and The Other Guys (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was out because I knew the bf wouldn't want to see it, not sharing my appreciation for Michael Cera.). They were two comedies that may or may not be funny. On the one hand, you had Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords") and the promise of all the color and noise and hilarity that comes with a plot based around a dinner party. On the other hand, you had Will Ferrell (and Mark Wahlberg, but he hardly counts as an asset. Nothing against him, but he's just no Will Ferrell, you know?). Now, Will Ferrell's genius is such that it trumps the characteristic dreariness of the cop movie. So, I was clearly feeling the pull. But despite my emotional tug-of-war, I decided to go with Dinner for Schmucks. The appeal of the weird factor was too strong to resist, as was Paul Rudd.

So, how was it? A little slow at first. And definitely weird. It also had a faintly European flavor, which was probably owing to the fact that it was based on the 1998 French film Le Diner de Cons (or to us, The Dinner Game). It became more farcical and dramatic as it built to its (admittedly predictable) conclusion. Steve Carell stole the show as Barry, an IRS agent who creates diorama "mouseterpieces" featuring dead mice in elaborate settings such as the Last Supper, Orville and Wilbur Wright's first flight, and an extravagant picnic starring little girl mice in red wigs emulating his ex-wife. Barry is the well-meaning moron who wreaks havoc every time he tries to "help," the ultimate schmuck who is destined to take first prize at Tim's (Rudd's) boss's competition dinner for idiots. Yet despite his annoying personality and fondness for dead rodents, I must admit that I was genuinely charmed by Barry and his mouseterpieces. Call it the artist in me, but anyone who would devote so much time, detail, and love to such an off-putting craft couldn't help but emerge as endearing. Jemaine Clement's role as an out-there, oversexed artist was interesting too, although in a creepy and decidedly not endearing way. It was strange seeing him with long hair, no glasses, and a tan - not to mention actually getting chicks - when I've known him as only the hapless nerdy musician on "Flight of the Conchords." Speaking of which, the Choncords' friendly stalker, Mel (Kristen Schaal), also made an appearance as Tim's quirky secretary (she is just as odd as she is in Conchords and wears some fabulously kitschy pins).

Overall, Dinner for Schmucks wasn't laugh-out-loud funny. But it was fun to watch, and to this comedy-starved moviegoer, well worth the trip.

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