Tuesday, July 19, 2011

3 paragraphs on Dinner For Schmucks

2010, Jay Roach -- Netflix

If Dinner For Schmucks was made in the 1970's it would have starred Peter Sellers in the Steve Carrell role (and perhaps Peter Sellers in the role of every schmuck at the party), and whomever the Paul Rudd of the 1970's was in the Paul Rudd role as the likable yet self-centered straight man. It would have been one of Sellers' lesser vehicles, but memorable for a climactic sequence of mayhem... much like The Party. Actually Sellers played the Paul Rudd role in The Party... Point being, it's the epitome of screwball comedy.

The film starts off with a ludicrous conceit - which would befit its origin as a French comedy - in which Rudd, in order to get a promotion, must attend a party with his boss and workplace contemporaries, everyone bringing with him or her an idiot, eccentric or oddball of the foremost order as entertainment. In the typical meet-cute of straight comedies, Rudd meets Carrell by way of running him over, and learns of his hobby, making intricate dioramas using dead (and stuffed) mice. The absurd situation doesn't sit well with Rudd's moral center, but he doesn't see any other options, which leads to contention between him and his girlfriend. Carrell's sudden infliction upon Rudd's life throws everything into increasingly absurd chaos and the odd couple buddy comedy runs through the lengthy middle act.

Of course, Rudd's moral fiber wins out once he begins to understand Carrell's eccentricity, and he sees a true kinship with Carrell just in time for the dinner party that seeks to poke fun at his new friend. The party is a surprisingly brief third act, but stacked with tremendously amusing performances from Carrell, Zach Galifianakis, and Chris O'Dowd as a blind swordsman. The party ends in anarchy, and the film resolves quite sweetly - befitting its origin as a French comedy. It's not a laugh-a-minute comedy, as there are more than a few stretches of pathos and, yes, a montage, and it's neither groundbreaking nor provocative. It is however solidly acted with plenty of charm that carries it almost solidly through it's 20-minutes-too-long 2 hour running time. For better or worse, it's an old-fashioned character-based scripted comedy, the kind that seem to be relegated to either kids movies or foreign films these days.