America loves to laugh at buffoons. Morons have always populated primetime television—Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, Al Bundy, Ralph Kramden, Glenn Beck. Year after year, more sitcoms starring a lovable oaf premier with rating success (catch $#*! My Dad Says!\, starring William Shatner, this fall on CBS!) Why do we love watching dummies act like dummies? Maybe it’s a cruel condescension that allows us to revile in perceived intellectual superiority—maybe, but I doubt it. Perhaps we admire the pinhead: a man contented with his cerebral shortcomings, someone able to live life without complexity or turmoil. The world around us is a confusing place; only a fool has sense enough to know that it’s impossible to understand the universe’s absurdity—or that could be pretentious jabberwocky too. It’s probably just funny when the fat, yellow, bald man falls down and goes “Boom!”
Dinner for Schmucks, the new film from Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents), lets audiences laugh at a bunch of loveable boneheads. Tim (Paul Rudd) is a high rolling business man with intentions of scoring a big promotion. His boss tempts him with an invitation to a special “career-making” dinner party, where all party attendees must bring an eccentric guest for social elites to laugh at. It’s about as tasteless as mocking the mentally handicapped, and Tim’s girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) becomes indignant. Tim almost refuses to attend the party until he literally runs into Barry (Steve Carell) and realizes he must let Barry exhibit his strangeness for all of his co-workers. Almost immediately, shenanigans ensue. The rest of the film lets Rudd play the straight man to Carell’s wackiness.
Plot isn’t Schmuck’s strong suit, but it’s hard to stop funny actors from being funny. Carell has many memorable moments, but the extended cast of alternative comedians and sketch comedy actors maintain a constant energy. Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) is the film’s definite scene-stealer as Kieran, a narcissistic artist with an “animalistic” sense of presence. Schmucks works best when it ignores its lame writing and lets these funnymen (and women) improvise and take the reins on their craft. It plays out a lot like an extra-zaney episode of The Office: Rudd is Jim, Szostak is Pam, Carell is (obviously) Michael, and the rest are…the rest.
While Schmucks isn’t without its problems (like a sagging middle and a hackney end) it manages to be funny, and certainly the only film this summer with tiny mice dioramas. It may not be high-brow or intellectual, but it’s sure to make “assloads of money.” Vive l’imbécile!