There is a point somewhere in the middle of Dinner For Schmucks that you feel a compelling desire to just get up and leave.
That curious sensation is both a credit to the movie and a terrible flaw — a credit in that this movie evokes a far broader range of emotions in viewers than your average comedy; a flaw in that sitting through such pure idiocy can be really painful at times.
There is every indication that achieving a physically painful state of ‘stupid’ was the desired effect that the filmmakers sought to capture.
It is interesting to take a look at the divisive critical response. In nearly 200 reviews, over half of them gave a poor review, despite an immensely likeable cast, including Jemaine Clement and Zach Galifianakis.
In the tineiest way you could classify this movie in a similar vein as ‘The Cable Guy’ or ‘Observe and Report’ — films billed as zany comedies that end up taking an audience where some aren’t expecting or willing to go.
It is as though the very nature of these characters strike at some cruel part of ourselves that we don’t like to admit exists.
Paul Rudd plays Tim Conrad, an ambitious, financially overextended employee of an equity fund who finds himself in a position to climb the corporate ladder.
To impress his boss, Tim agrees to take part in an annual dinner hosted by his employer. In this ‘Dinner For Remarkable People’ each attendee brings a guest — the most delusional misfit they can find — to be judged against the others in a cruel contest of dim-wits.
As a pioneer in this new frontier of self-debasing comedy, Steve Carrell was the obvious choice for the role of Barry Speck.
On the surface, Barry seems to be an extension of Carrell’s character ‘Brick’ from Anchorman with a smidge of Michael Scott from TV’s The Office.
But this amateur taxidermist and Grade ‘A’ schmuck, is in a class all his own. Recruited into Tim’s dinner plans, Barry proceeds to destroy Tim’s life over the next 24 hours through a variety of well-intentioned acts that go all wrong.
If you can make it to the point in the movie where the dinner begins, the film begins to show its sweeter side.
Further exploration of Barry’s character introduces the element of pity. It’s hard to keep laughing when you pity someone, when you finally understand why they do such incomprehensible things.
Some might argue that pity and comedy aren’t two emotional buttons that should be pushed at the same time. I’m inclined to agree.
Regardless, it is an interesting sensation and one should not miss the chance to see Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis and some bizarre taxidermy.
By Chris Marchand