MacGuffin Film Review – Dinner For Schmucks

Dinner For Schmucks – A Dialogue

Brandi Sperry: So, we’ve seen Dinner For Schmucks. Before I say anything critical about the film, I must just get this out of the way: highly recommended if you are a diorama enthusiast. Honestly, there were some incredibly kick-ass dioramas in this film. I found myself thinking about the prop department and how much fun they must have had!

These dioramas I enjoyed so much were the creations of Steve Carrell’s character, Barry, who has a hobby of taxidermy and creates scenes for the mice that he stuffs. Slightly creepy, yes, but I feel like Carrell does really sell the character as being rather sweet, despite also being incredibly odd and deeply socially inept.

Allen Almachar: The dioramas were probably the most memorable aspect of the film. Barry gets really creative in terms of the scenes, I especially enjoyed the Benjamin Franklin and the “Ape to Man” scenarios.

Before we get too deep with mice diorama admiration, perhaps we should talk about the plot a little bit. Tim (Paul Rudd) plays a rising business executive who, in an attempt to win over his superiors, has to bring a so-called “idiot” to his boss’s dinner party. The employee who brings the most entertaining idiot will be declared the winner. This is just plain mean, but, it sets up the eventual meet Tim has with Barry.

Needless to say, from here, hijinks ensue.

Brandi: Yes, in the first of many coincidences, just as Tim is about to cancel plans to attend the dinner because his girlfriend is so disgusted by the idea (and Tim very much wants to impress his girlfriend, to get her to accept his marriage proposal), he literally runs over Barry in the street. Barry had been attempting to ‘rescue’ a dead mouse, for use in one of the aforementioned dioramas. Also, the whole encounter takes place directly in front of a taxidermy supply shop, so Tim gets a very quick rundown on the life of Barry, and of course completely forgets his earlier pledge to abandon the dinner.

From this point, the plot is basically one fiasco after another, as Barry cluelessly meddles in Tim’s affairs. For me, some of these disasters were quite funny, but others were more on the side of too excruciating to watch.

Allen: That really describes how this film is overall: it’s the extreme of both sides of comedy. When it’s funny, it’s VERY funny, as when Barry and Tim have these verbal exchanges where little misunderstandings and confusions arise. Both Carrell and Rudd are masters of improvisational comedy, and when they’re riffing in sync, it’s great.

However, when the comedy is bad, it’s cringe-worthingly bad. There are parts in the film where they fall into physical and slapstick comedy that bomb unbelievably. As when Barry and Tim’s longtime stalker Darla (Lucy Punch) have an exchange in Tim’s apartment that’s so bad I wanted to cover my eyes. They act like maniacs: hooting and hollering and throwing things around. No human being on earth would act like this, regardless of how simple-minded they are.

You have to admit, they go for broke when it comes to the comedy here. This was either going to be the funniest film of the summer, or the dumbest, there is no middle ground.

Brandi: I haven’t seen the French film that this one is based of off, but I can guess that in trying to translate a European farce into an American comedy, something just didn’t work. While I agree that much of the dialogue is amusing, the coincidences and bizarre episodes of destruction and violence were off-putting rather than pleasingly over the top. Around about the third time the plot hinges on someone forgetting their phone or switching it with someone else’s, my eyes were definitely rolling. And yes, the subplot with the stalker (who conveniently IMs Tim just as Barry is left unattended with the computer) is the most unbearable of all. How I long for a wacky comedy that doesn’t stoop to mining cheap laughs from a “crazy obsessed bitch” character.

Also problematic is the fact that I didn’t really feel for Tim’s character’s plight. Yes, he wants to move up at his job, and that’s something most of us can relate to. But at one point we actually see his tax return, stating that he makes almost 200 grand a year! He’s driving a Porsche! Perhaps not the greatest choice for a sympathetic main character these days.

Allen: Yeah, the movie was much less a narrative and more a bunch of comedic skits mashed together by a paper thin plot. I agree that Tim’s character wasn’t very sympathetic, apparently he needs the promotion but lives in a huge condo overlooking the city. Not bad for someone at the bottom of the corporate totem pole.

My biggest issue was that there were too many characters trying to get laughs. Tim was pretty much the only straight character in the whole film, everyone else was a caricature; it felt like comedy overload. The dinner scene (which surprisingly comes very late in the film) felt like something out of a circus. You have so many people acting so over the top that it really became off putting.

Was there a particular element of the film that worked for you?

Brandi: Well, you touched on it before, but really the main reason to watch the film is the back-and-forth between Rudd and Carrell. There are some great exchanges, as well as one sequence of physical comedy—when Tim has hurt his back and is resisting help from Barry—that was very funny. These, of course, are understated bits compared to the rest of the film.

And, though it seems contradictory to some of what we’ve been saying, another part of the movie that I enjoyed was Jemaine Clement’s character of Kieran. Though he is a fairly extreme caricature of a contemporary modern artist, he is not one of the idiots being courted for dinner, but rather someone that Tim’s girlfriend Julie works with. I wish the rest of the random side characters in the film hit the same note of dedicated, straight-faced silliness that Clement does. Not everything the character did worked perfectly, but he never seemed overreaching to me. I certainly didn’t get that from Zach Galifianakis, but then I might be the only person in the world who thinks he’s overrated.

Allen: You didn’t like Zach Galifianakis? I felt much about him the way you felt about Jermaine Clement. He played his role with a completely straight face; as an IRS agent while at the same time a master of “mind control.” Sure, he wasn’t as good as he was in The Hangover (2009), but I felt he was certainly one of the highlights of the film. Only he and Carrell can pull off an imaginary gun fight and make it somewhat entertaining. Plus, he was the catalyst for Barry to fully take control of himself. We don’t really get to sympathize with Barry until we learn what the phrase “you can eat my pudding” means.

Brandi: I felt like the scenes with Zach Galifianakis went on for too long. I just don’t respond to his shtick the way that most people seem to. I do think that the final showdown between his character and Barry was more emotionally satisfying than anything that went on with Tim and Julie (spoiler, I guess?).

Allen: I can understand that, but honestly, ALL the scenes ran a little bit longer then they needed to. The Tim and Julie storyline seemed a little contrived in my opinion, I don’t believe she could’ve thought and felt the things she did about Tim given all the crazy and ludicrous people and situations he got himself involved in. Everything could’ve worked out with a simple explanation. The center of the film was between Tim and Barry anyway, and I think the film could’ve been much better if they had kept it focused on them two. In a way, this film is kind of like a lesser version of I Love You, Man (2009), a much better “bromance” movie starring Paul Rudd.

Brandi: Agreed, and given that I Love You, Man was not exactly the best film of last year, we’re obviously not giving Dinner for Schmucks a ringing endorsement. I would say that overall, while I didn’t hate it, and some parts were amusing, I definitely won’t be watching it again.

Allen: That’s pretty much my feeling. Had some pretty funny parts and I don’t regret watching it, but I probably won’t want to see it again, unless they make a montage of all the dioramas. Those mice were pretty darn awesome.

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