Review: Dinner For Schmucks (2010)
Note: This post contains a portion of a review originally written for CaryCitizen. To read the full review, click here.
“The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges!” remarks James Stewart sarcastically in the classic screwball comedy The Philadelphia Story. Jay Roach might concur with that sentiment. From the adventures of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp to Monty Python’s Upperclass Twits of the Year, comedy has frequently been used to explore themes of economic disparity and class conflict. Roach’s Dinner For Schmucks is Hollywood’s latest attempt to tackle the widening gap between the rich and the poor – or in its own words, the “winners” and the “losers.” Lucky for us, not only is it surprisingly smart in its depiction of recession woes, it’s just plain funny to boot.
Paul Rudd stars as Tim, a rising executive who gets invited by his boss to attend a monthly dinner with other high rollers. The catch: each guest must invite a quirky and idiotic loser to dinner so the company elite can make fun of them. The biggest schmuck will be fooled into receiving a trophy supposedly for their extraordinary talents, when it’s actually a symbol of their inferiority. Tim is conflicted over whether or not to sacrifice a promotion in the name of principle, but inadvertently runs into Barry (Steve Carell), a man so socially awkward and accident-prone that he makes Forrest Gump look like The Fonz. Tim sees this as a sign that he should take Barry to dinner, unaware that the encounter may very well ruin his life.
The comedy is broad and has the subtlety of an atomic bomb, but the chemistry of Rudd and Carell usually makes even the most uninspired gags earn a chuckle. Most of the humor revolves around slapstick physical comedy or raunchy conversation – one gets the feeling that if Chaplin or Keaton had worked in the sound age, they’d have thrived with similar material. Even more remarkable than the two leads, however, is the supporting cast. Jemaine Clement steals the show as a self-obsessed artist with a deadpan delivery and exaggerated physicality that recalls the glory days of comedians like Steve Martin and Bill Murray. Zach Galifianakis is just as flawless as Therman, an IRS agent who works with Barry and is convinced he can control people’s minds.
Unfortunately, the film goes so far in its portrayal of society’s “losers” that it shoots itself in the foot.