by Mel Valentin
Out of every genre, comedy is the most subjective. What one moviegoer finds funny may turn off or even disgust another. Some moviegoers respond to physical comedy (i.e., slapstick) and others to verbal humor. From that second category, some audiences respond to crude, vulgar, sexual humor. Others respond to intellectual wordplay and puns. We can refine it further into parody, spoof, and satire, depending on the subject and the intended humor. We can laugh at the subject or with the subject. "Dinner for Schmucks," Steve Carell’s latest film does both: we laugh at his socially clueless, easily perplexed, oddball character and at the self-serving, elitist, egotistical characters who mock him and everybody they consider an “extraordinary person” (i.e., an idiot).Directed by Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Meet the Parents, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), Dinner for Schmucks is a remake of the little known 1998 French comedy, The Dinner Game. Tim (Paul Rudd), a not-quite ruthless financial analyst, works for a brokerage firm. Tim works on the sixth floor with the other analysts, but he’s also ambitious. He wants a promotion to the seventh floor and an executive office of his own. At a meeting, Tim boldly speaks up, proposing the firm attempt to woo Martin Müeller (David Walliams), a wealthy European. The firm’s CEO, Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood), likes the idea, but before giving Tim a promotion, he invites Tim to a monthly dinner, the “dinner for schmucks’ of the title.
"A must-see thanks to Steve Carell's bold, fearless performance."
Each executive is expected to bring an “extraordinary person” to the dinner for the executives to mock. Tim has some reservations, especially when he mentions the dinner to his art gallery-owning girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), who objects to the idea, but when he literally runs over Barry, an IRS employee with a unique interest in taxidermy (he dresses dead mice in clothing for his dioramas), he can’t resist. He decides to befriend Barry just long enough to bring him to the dinner, then dump him. Tim doesn’t count on Barry’s increasingly destructive involvement in his personal life, of course, or the sexually assertive artist, Kieran (Jemaine Clement), currently working with Julie on his next art installation.
Dinner for Schmucks turns, at least marginally, on Tim’s crisis-of-conscience/redemption. He wavers between doing what it takes to get the promotion and holding on to idealistic, if useless (at least in the corporate world), ideas about integrity, honesty, and respect. As the source of most of the comedy in Dinner for Schmucks, Barry doesn’t undergo a similar character. He speaks his mind, often to hilarious, if cringe-inducing effect. He stumbles toward self-awareness, or, to be more accurate, how others perceive him and his eccentricities, but any change is ultimately superficial. He ends up maybe a friend or two richer, but only slightly wiser about the world and how it works.
Although we’re expected to laugh at Barry’s seemingly willful eccentricities, Carell’s fearless performance as Barry, a performance with antecedents in Seth Rogen’s performance in last year’s underrated Observe and Report and Jim Carrey’s performance as the title character in 1996’s The Cable Guy, makes him the most sympathetic character in Dinner for Schmucks (a title that actually refers to the executives at the dinner, not the supposed subjects of ridicule), with Tim’s crisis of conscience, played straight by Paul Rudd, who also deserves kudos, if only for knowingly letting Carell steal every scene they share together, taking a secondary role.Other performers, including Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover") as Therman, Barry’s professional and romantic rival, the already mentioned Jemaine Clement ("The Flight of the Concords," "Eagle vs. Shark") as Kieran, also add their scene-stealing talents to "Dinner for Schmucks." Ron Livingston as Tim’s professional rival, Caldwell, Larry Wilmore ("The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"), Kristen Schaal as Tim’s pushy secretary (she wants the promotion as much, if not more than Tim), and Lucy Punch as Darla, an ex-turned-stalker from Tim’s past all contribute solid, back-up performances to what turns out to be one of the summer’s most pleasant comedic surprises.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=19317&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/30/10 23:00:00