Why do we keep our socially inept friends? My theory is that there are two reasons: 1. Despite their eccentric traits, other aspects of their personality offer magnanimous, redeeming qualities that we are drawn to. 2. They are easy to make fun of.
Notice the difference: The first reason is motivated by virtue and acceptance. The second reason, however, is questionable to our morals. Is it wrong to make fun of our friends for the sake of our own amusement? Or should we instead treat them as dignified beings and show them respect?
This battle is epitomized in the latest Jay Roach film, Dinner For Schmucks. Tim Conrad (portrayed by bromance poster child Paul Rudd) is a struggling executive willing to do anything to get a promotion so that his girlfriend Julie (played by rising actress Stephanie Szostak) will marry him.
When Tim impresses his boss Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood) by getting an opportunity to negotiate with a prestigious client (David Walliams), Fender gives Tim an opportunity to rise in the office ranks by inviting him to a “dinner for winners.”
Each executive to attend this dinner must bring a guest with a unique talent. The guest with the most unique talent will earn a trophy, and the executive who brought him gains praise.
But Tim soon realizes that this “dinner for winners” is more like a “dinner for idiots,” and Tim becomes conflicted as to whether or not he should attend with a guest.
The following day, Tim accidently hits a man with his car. The victim is Barry Speck (Steve Carell), and Tim instantly realizes that Barry would be the perfect guest for his boss’ dinner. Why? Well, because Barry tells Tim that he was picking up a dead rodent from the middle of the street for his latest piece of artwork. Barry collects dead mice, dresses them up, and displays them in ornately decorated doll houses: it seems like Tim has hit the jackpot.
Needless to say, Barry is about the least socially-calibrated person you can imagine.
And between the moment Tim meets Barry and the night of the dinner, Barry imposes havoc on Tim’s life in more ways than one. Still, Tim is drawn to Barry’s kindness, and as a result, feels more and more guilty for inviting Barry to this dinner. Along the way Barry and Tim learn a few lessons, and run into many surprises. By the time the dinner arrives, audience members will wonder who the idiot truly is. Is it Barry or is it the cruel executives who laugh at his ineptitude?
The element of surprise, before and during the dinner, is the film’s greatest strength. Thankfully, there are many brought to life by the film’s likeable supporting cast. Jemaine Clement (HBO’s Flight of the Conchords) plays Kieran Vollard, a narcissistic artist interested in Tim’s girlfriend. Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) plays Thurman Murch, Barry’s co-worker and arch nemesis. Clement and Galifianakis offer their charms and quirks, and their silliness will give the audience plenty of chuckles.
That being said, the script of Dinner for Schmucks doesn’t utilize its tremendously talented actors as well as it should. For example, the script resorts to slapstick too often and waxes on the sophomoric. Mind you, slapstick is essential to bring out the most absurd moments of a comedy. But in this movie, it feels like a bit of a cop-out.
In addition, the jokes tended to be hit-or-miss, making it one of the least quotable comedies of the year. If the writers of the film focused on actually coming up with better jokes rather than relying on the actors’ subtext to deliver them in a funny way, the film would have a more lasting appeal.
Dinner for Schmucks won’t be regarded as a defining moment for any of its lead actors. It certainly isn’t up to par with Carell’s, Rudd’s or Galifanakis’ other comedies. But even though Dinner for Schmucks isn’t a four-course meal, it is a good enough dish to fill your appetite for comedy.