Based on a French comedy called Le Dîner de Cons, 2010’s Dinner for Schmucks is a politically incorrect screwball comedy. Featuring likeable leads and an overstretched central idea, the film stars Paul Rudd as ambitious financial executive called Tim Conrad. After impressing his managers, Tim is invited to an exclusive dinner which he hopes will lead to a long overdue promotion. The only catch is that each guest must bring a plus one, chosen for their ability to compete for the prize of ‘biggest loser’. Tim’s in two minds about attending the insensitive dinner but when he literally runs into the sweet but simple squirrel taxidermist Barry Speck (Steve Carell) and thinks to himself, what’s the worst that could happen?
Despite being a fan of pretty much everyone in front of the camera in this movie, it passed me by until now. I remember its release but the trailers and reviews did nothing to pull me to the cinema. It’s not a film I’m gutted to have missed three years ago but I came out the other side thinking that it was an average comedy which was short on laughs and story but enjoyable nonetheless.
The fundamental conceit is incredibly mean spirited and as such you’re never in doubt that the bad guys will get their comeuppance. There’s no way that Paramount would distribute a picture with an idea like the one in this movie in which the little guy comes out second best. Because of this, you’re sometimes left waiting for the film’s finale but there are some good moments before you get there. I enjoyed the central relationship between Rudd and Carell. The actors have worked together on several occasions and have the straight guy, funny guy thing down to a tee. In Rudd I personally don’t think there’s a better comic straight guy working in Hollywood today and Carell has the ability to get laughs from any situation.
It takes a while for the laughter to come but there are several big gags dotted throughout the film, though mainly towards the end. For the most part the movie is simply an enjoyable watch, not overly funny but doing enough to keep the audience entertained. There are farcical elements which work well when piled on top of each other. The jokes and calamities build until the movie reaches a point where each new joke is funny whereas in the beginning it’s slow to build with many gags missing the target. Many of the biggest laughs come from the supporting cast and the film has a great ensemble to back up the two leads.
Jermaine Clement puts in an expectedly funny performance as a sexually charged and pretentious artist who threatens Rudd’s relationship with his wife, played by the delightful Stephanie Szostak. Clement has many great lines and adds a lot of physicality to his performance, something I hadn’t seen him do before. Zach Galifianakis puts in a fantastic performance which earned him some minor awards. Lucy Punch, David Walliams, Chris O’Dowd and particularly Octavia Spencer add laughs in the final stages. It’s Carell though who gets the biggest laughs for his nice guy, loser character. It’s not a stretch for him but he plays it well and manages to get the balance between sweet and silly just about right. His costume also adds immeasurably to the character but the light hair, teeth and cheap clothing isn't too over the top.
It must be said that the characters are well written but the script sometimes feels a bit flat. There’s lots going on but it feels as though it’s actions rather than dialogue which get the big laughs. While this is no problem (my favourite screen comedian is Chaplin after all), I would have liked a few more zingers thrown in to the mix. Overall Dinner for Schmucks isn’t a great film but it’s not bad earlier. It was a nice surprise but won’t blow you away and the situations and themes are much sweeter and less mean that I expected them to be.