If a film stars Jemaine Clement and Zach Galifianakis, I will see it. It doesn’t matter if it’s funny, if it’s got special effects, if it’s Oscar-quality, or even if it’s feature length, I’ll be there because I love those two comedic actors. Galifianakis and Clement pepper in unique humor in an otherwise broad comedy in Dinner for Schmucks.
Based on the French black comedy The Dinner Game, the film tells the story of Tim (Paul Rudd), an ambitious executive who isn’t actually a stock broker, though he gets labeled as one. Tim is trying desperately to impress his boss, and a mean-spirited company tradition seems like the perfect way to score points. Before he can join the ranks of the office elite, Tim must participate in a “dinner for idiots” in which guests bring the most bizarre people they can find and make fun of them for entertainment.
While driving home from work, the best idiot of them all falls into Tim’s lap in the form of Barry (Steve Carell), a broken-hearted IRS employee who spends his spare time creating a miniature world starring dead mice. Thinking he has a sure winner for the biggest idiot, Tim invites Barry to the dinner.
At the same time, Tim’s girlfriend Robin (Andrea Savage) is vehemently against the dinner and the elitist premise behind it. This is just one area where Tim and Robin find themselves growing apart. She is headed down a promising career path working with hot new artist Kieran Vollard (Clement) and spends much of her time in the orbit of Kieran’s over-the-top “animal magnetism”.
While Tim and Robin fight over the dinner, Tim and Barry grow closer and soon form a genuine friendship. The turning point comes when Barry takes Tim to see his self-professed mind controlling boss, Therman (Galifianakis), who preys on Barry’s insecurities. Tim is able to help Barry turn the tables and grows a conscience, realizing there’s no sport in kicking a guy when he’s down.
Carell has already proven that he can play lovable oddballs in films like Anchorman and The 40-year-old Virgin, but it’s much harder to laugh at Barry because he seems like a slow, borderline-Aspberger’s eccentric who doesn’t mean any harm. No matter how much he screws up Tim’s life, he always has the best intentions and it makes you feel guilty for laughing at him before he even hits the dinner. We’re rooting for Barry more than Tim because he’s more entertaining and, strangely enough, more relatable.
On that same note, Clement’s exotic, erotic creative art process and Galifianakis’ turtleneck dickie are comedy gold nuggets that leave you wishing both got more screen time. That’s the real problem with the film: they’re sitting on a comedy gold mine, but they never actually start digging. Tim’s ups and downs with his girlfriend are nowhere near as enjoyable as Kieran delivering a baby zebra or Therman’s deep concentration when performing mind control.
This Dinner will make you wish that Galifianakis and Clement were the main course instead of just appetizers.