Dinner for Schmucks
by Nathan Baker-Lutz
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Let’s be honest. If you sit through the first 15 minutes of Dinner for Schmucks and don’t know how it’s going to end, well, you’re a schmuck. That’s not so bad; it greatly increases your chances of liking the movie.
Schmucks is a formulaic and mediocre glimpse into self-destruction. It’s the story of Tim, played by Paul Rudd, who is balancing his professional aspirations with a long-term girlfriend. When a chance arises for him to prove his corporate worth, Tim stumbles upon mouse-modeling Barry, played by Steve Carell, and invites him to his corporation’s monthly dinner for idiots. Along the way, a naïve and positive Barry leads Tim down a nearly irreversible path of destruction as Tim tries to win back a disapproving girlfriend and still land the big account.
The movie is less about an actual dinner and more about Tim learning that the costs of so-called success do not outweigh the rewards that come from doing what is right. I told you it was formulaic. But let’s not get into that. That’s too deep. No one saw this trailer and said, “Hey, that movie looks like it could inspire me” or “That movie looks moving”. They probably said “I love Steve Carell and that Rudd guy wasn’t bad on Friends.”
What’s left is a movie with comedic range but it doesn’t deliver piled-on laughter. I found myself laughing alone occasionally and along with the theater and mostly at Steve Carell. He carries the movie, playing the love-child of Michael Scott and Brick from Anchorman. It’s a Carell that people love, of course, but has he begun to wear thin? He plays the buddy bits well and nails some throwback slapstick.
Schmucks fails at its foundation. Tim brings his entire trouble onto himself, which creates a lack of sympathy. He has a beautiful girlfriend and a steady career and the story would have you believe that the threat of wasting away at his current job is so great that he’ll do whatever it takes to become something better. Unfortunately his consequences are too small and so is his change in the end. But, again, I am looking too deep into it. Rudd manages the character well. His relationship with Barry takes some getting used to but they eventually find a successful rhythm.
Dinner for Shmucks will have you laughing and Carell excels at making you really feel for Barry, but don’t expect more. It’s not an emotional investment or an eye-opening, self- analyzing movie. There are gratifying moments and each character gives something unique but, in the end, it is hard to forget that everything is Tim’s fault.
Nathan Baker-Lutz Nathan is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Film and Video, including a concentration in Screenwriting. He has been writing for Film Monthly for 2 years.
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