When watching Dinner for Schmucks you have to ask yourself one question. Who is the real idiot here? Is it Steve Carrel (The Office) who plays Barry, the unwitting dupe, or Paul Rudd (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as Tim, the “nice guy” who can’t help himself in wanting to climb the corporate ladder? Perhaps it is Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek – 2009) as Lance Fender, the corporate leader intent on keeping people in their place. Is the biggest schmuck in this film really Ron Livingston (Band of Brothers), as Caldwell, who obviously has no qualms about finding and inviting the most hapless rube to Fender’s dinners. Any way you justify seeing Dinner for Schmucks, do it, it is worth your time for this comedic romp by Jay Roach (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery).
After a seventh floor executive at Fender Financial is fired, sixth floor analyst Tim (Rudd) is eyeing the upper floor and the departed exec’s office. Given the opportunity to make an impression on his bosses, Tim baits them with hooking Mueller an eccentric millionaire as a client. Mueller is the rich heir of a Swiss munitions manufacturer that made a ton of money during WWII. Fender (Greenwood) gives Tim the opportunity, however, on the condition that he comes to his monthly dinner that he holds in honor of the biggest idiot they can find. Although Tim thinks that the idea is stupid, he goes along, until he realizes that his girlfriend Julie is appalled by the idea. Hoping that he can get out of the dinner by faking a backache, Tim is talking while driving and accidently hits Barry with his Porsche. A hilarious debate ensues in the middle of the street between Tim and Barry as they negotiate the price of keeping a lawyer out of the proceedings. The price ranges from $5 to $1000 that Barry thinks he has to pay. I have to give it to Tim, as he could have really taken advantage of Barry, but it is moments like this where Tim’s character comes through. Going home to his girlfriend Julie, Tim explains that after meeting Barry it is fate and that he must go to the dinner with Barry as his guest. Realizing that Tim is a jerk, she leaves the apartment. Did I mention Tim keeps asking her to marry him? Bad time for that now, I guess.
Havoc continues as Barry shows up, and throws Tim’s back out for real, invites one of Tim’s old psycho-girlfriends over — mistakes Julie for said stalker — tears up his apartment, and keeps Tim up all night with just general goofiness. As all this is taking place, the great Peter Sellers comes to mind in his role as the hapless Inspector Clouseau. The next day Tim is to meet with Müeller (David Walliams), the millionaire and his wife (she’s the art collector) and Tim was supposed to bring Julie (the art curator) so he and Müeller could talk business. Already ruining his relationship with Julie, Tim is intent on landing Müeller as a client for his firm. Barry to the rescue, he brings the psycho-girlfriend as a substitute. I would love to tell you more but I have told too much already…
Inspired by the 1998 French film Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game), Jay Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman have taken Francis Veber original work and turned out a film that appeal to the base need of the audience to feel superior. Steve Carell as Barry does an extraordinary job of pulling off the hapless goofy IRS worker who makes dioramas that pose dead mice in famous works of art. The director shows us with painful detail how much care and pride that Barry puts into each of his “mouseterpieces.” Although we truly think, Barry is a schmuck we love him anyway.
On the other hand, we are not as sure about Tim, as he waffles between nice guy and jerk throughout the film. Paul Rudd as Tim shows us sides of all of us who are willing do to anything to get ahead in life despite our moral compass. Tim’s girlfriend Julie, played by The Devil Wears Prada’s Stephanie Szostak, provides that moral character that Tim lacks. Julie is an art curator whose current client is the wild and over the top artist, Kieran, whose artwork is filled with exotic images of him with horns, eating and devouring animals, or he is in wild eyed-Christ-like poses. Kieran, played by Jemaine Clement, one-half of the music comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, is an over the top character that adds another layer of absurdity to this film. Clement also adds a complete layer of sexual tension that hangs in the background, as it hangs in the back of Tim’s mind. It takes Barry, the walking tornado, to bring these thoughts to the surface.
In fact, Barry brings all sorts of Chaplin-esqe sympathetic comedy to Dinner for Schmucks that without him would be just plain mean spirited. Director Roach realizes that although we are there to laugh at poor Barry, he also gives Barry a sympathetic back-story. One that if you were paying attention to all the mouse posing vignettes you would realize that those are Barry’s way of communicating his sorrow and grief over the loss of his wife to his boss, Thurman Much – The Master of Mind control. Zach Galifianakis seems to be popping up everywhere now a days and his addition to this film helps even out the characters, proving that schmucks can be cruel as well. Lucy Punch as Darla the stalker chasing after Tim, is a nice touch that makes for one funny lunch scene.
Take my word for it, if you don’t see Dinner for Schmucks at the theater, see it on DVD, this film is funny, well timed, with both the comedic pacing, and the steady editing that keeps the laughs coming and the fun flowing. Dinner for Schmucks is rated PG-13, which is about Barry’s mental age.