Awkward Humor Extraordinaire

Dinner for Schmucks

Directed by Jay Roach. Starring Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis, Stephanie Szostak, and Lucy Punch. Released 2010

Let’s face it, you already know if you’re going to like Dinner for Schmucks. Can’t get enough of Steve Carell’s painfully uncomfortable awkwardness or Paul Rudd’s seemingly effortless charm? Then this is the movie for you. Dinner for Schmucks suffers from a terribly slow first Act littered with too much expository dialogue, but with the introduction of Steve Carell’s Barry, the movie picks up some serious speed and becomes all that it promises to be: funny.

Dinner for Schmucks is inspired by Francis Veber’s French-language comedy The Dinner Game that follows Tim (Paul Rudd) an average guy on the come-up for a company he works for who finds himself invited to a dinner by the heads of the firm after impressing them in a board meeting. This isn’t any normal dinner, however, but rather a twisted comedy show where all the corporate execs invite “people with extraordinary talent”, a.k.a idiots, over and then make fun of them for their amusement. Going to this dinner and impressing the bosses could mean big time promotion for Tim, but Tim’s girlfriend (the talented Stephanie Szostak) won’t have anything to do with it.

In a dilemma, Tim can’t decide if he should take the noble path and stay on good terms with his girlfriend, or make fun of a couple of idiots and score a sweet paycheck. Fortunately for Tim, this dilemma doesn’t last long as he, literally, runs into Barry (Steve Carell). Barry is the epitome of awkward, someone with “extraordinary talent”. He is the embodiment of uncomfortable and to make matters even stranger, he happens to dabble in taxidermy; making lovely mouse dioramas he calls “mousterpieces” out of dead mice. As you can see, Tim’s choice has been made for him by some sort of higher power…or so he thinks, for Barry quickly reveals his true form, a loose destructive force that rages on and cripples Tim’s entire life to its knees through its bewildering incompetence.

As I mentioned earlier, this movie has a terribly slow first Act but picks up the pace and delivers some great comic moments as it rolls on. The writing certainly isn’t top-notch with a handful of jokes that fall flat, but what really makes this movie is the all-star cast. Steve Carell pulls out all his tricks for making the most uncomfortable human being ever in his creation of Barry, an almost otherworldly being whose interactions with other people come across as absolutely pathetic. You can’t help but feel sorry for the poor schmuck, right after you’re done laughing at him that is.

Paul Rudd plays the straight man in this and does so with his usual charm, and while he doesn’t have much to do other than fuel the comedy fire, he does an excellent job all the same. His ex-girlfriend, Darla is an absolute psychotic, driven by her obsession with Tim and bent on getting back together with him, or ruining his life. She is played eerily perfect by Lucy Punch and contributes to some of the most painfully awkward “comic misunderstandings” in the movie, and despite her creepy appearance was hilarious to watch.

The two standouts in this, though, for me were Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement. Zach plays Barry’s IRS rival, Therman, a man obsessed with mind-control and ruining Barry’s life. He has some of the funniest moments with Carell including his domination of Barry’s mind by simply telling him to do something, and one of the most amazing imaginary wizard battles that I’ve seen in a long time. Jemaine plays Kieran a totally insane photo artist with an apparently “untamable animal attraction”. Jemaine is the master of dead-pan as any of you Flight of the Conchords fans know, and he goes all out in his performance here saying lines like, “Have you ever had your arm in a Zebra’s vagina before Tim? You should try it, it’s magical” with such conviction, that you can’t help but think he actually believes it. He transforms such an absurd character into a believable one, making everything he says even funnier.

Barry and Goat-Boy having a heart to heart.

Dinner for Schmucks has its weak moments in some of the writing and the strange voice over epilogue at the end (which probably should’ve been left out) but the faults are over-shadowed by the jokes that land and the amazing cast that delivers them, making this a fun comedy that you’re sure to enjoy.

Review by William Bixby

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