Dinner For Schmucks

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Dinner for Schmucks Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Dinner for Schmucks

This Fancy Feast Satisfies Thanks To Main Ingredient Steve Carell

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Dinner for Schmucks

In the French original, The Dinner Game, there apparently was no dinner. The whole premise was based on the set-up, the train wreck effect of watching idiots come together and the havoc created on the way to the unseen event. Jay Roach, the director of the first two Meet the Parents installments and the Austin Powers trilogy, and screenwriters David Guion and Michael Handelman figured they could one-up that Game by serving up the main course, the complete Dinner for Schmucks.

It starts like all good French farces (and a host of 1980s movies starring Michael J. Fox) by introducing its business-oriented protagonist, the eager beaver Tim (Paul Rudd at what likely passes for his straightest straight guy) gunning for the great office on a higher floor and the chance to make money to convince his semi-exotic, intelligent (although anonymously named) girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak), an art curator on the rise, that it’s time for her to finally say yes to his marriage proposals. Tim steps up during a meeting with a strong pitch and snags the attention of the higher ups, but there’s one catch – he has to join them for an exclusive dinner and bring along the most outrageous plus-one, the kind of idiot that bourgeois types can make fun of and feel oh-so much better about themselves. If he sells his soul just this little bit, he’s got the job and the perfect life.

Enter Barry (Steve Carell), the not quite garden variety schmuck that we all know will upend the stability and conformity of Tim’s life and teach him to be himself. After all, and at the very least, Barry certainly knows exactly who he is. Barry’s the guy who is willing to throw himself in front of a car to save a dead mouse from being squashed in order to transform the departed little rodent into Jesus or Picasso through the modern marvels
of taxidermy.

That’s the least of Barry’s quite prodigious abilities though, and it is to Carell’s credit that Barry achieves a degree of humanity beyond the horridly jokey nature of the character. Barry could have easily become a broad sketch in the mold of Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy or another 40-Year Old Virgin, but Carell doesn’t hone in on Barry as a punch line. He makes us see that Barry is far more than a loser, even a game-changing loser, once the Dinner enters the home stretch. Carell, like the late great Peter Sellers, plays the man, not a collection of character traits, accents or even the premise. In turn, his performance guarantees that Dinner for Schmucks goes down easy, despite sharply contrasting flavors fighting for control of our comedic palettes.

Dinner for Schmucks can be seen at Rave The Greene 14, Rave Dayton South and more

T.T. Stern-Enzi
Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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