Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Worst of the Worst

The worst movie of 2010 is Dinner for Schmucks.  Starring Paul Rudd as Tim, an uptight/upright executive on the rise, and Steve Carell as Barry, a cipher and metaphor for all things "different" (person with a disability, self-taught artist, a guy with a bad hair-cut and goofy glasses, techy nerd/geek, etc.), the movie is a strange exercise in worthlessness.  You can feel a sort of vapid desperation coming from it, as if the people who made it really were excited about the concept but had no idea what to do with execution. 

So they place two "opposites" like Tim and Barry in kooky situations that aren't really that kooky or worth watching:  breaking into a weird-o artist's loft to confront Tim's gal pal, Barry interfering with Tim's relationships via sneaking outside his apartment, and finally in the flattest epiphany any movie has ever offered:  the dinner for schmucks.  Ths dinner is a mean-spirited exercise by the executives Tim works with to humiliate freaks these executives bring with them without letting the freaks know.  Not only does the whole premise of this dinner sound completely phony, it really is horrible watching the way the actors who play the executives have to preen and be enthused about the freaks they have to offer, as if each one is an offering to the High Class Executive Gods or something, when in reality the Dinner for Schmucks freaks are just your plain, everyday sideshow performers (a ventriloquist who sucks, a psychic who makes bird noises, a guy [not even a lady] with an extravagant beard, etc.)  The movie does not even have enough imagination to invent really freaky freaks.  If the writers and director had, the movie might have snapped into a surrealism that's both mean-spirited and takes flight, an unforced riff on Todd Browning's 1934 picture Freaks maybe, or a reinvention of the whole genre of man-boy movies (usually starring Will Ferrell) this movie seems to be the death of.

But nothing works in this thing.  It has a soullessness borne from a one-note joke that really makes no sense.  It's like the kids in Carrie grew up into big-time white-collar workers and they have evolved their antics into parlor games.  But it's not even like that either.  It's just laziness.  Bad art.  Every scene goes on too long, every gesture and moment manufactured for big laughs that never materialize.

Poor Paul Rudd.  He's been turned into a sweet-guy robot.  And Steve Carell's Barry is just a flaky, ticky non-character used to represent what all of "us" aren't:  normal sweet-guy robots like Rudd.  What's kind of even sadder is that Barry, like most other people with disabilities in movies like this, is used as a foil to provide a redemption for Mr. Sweet-Guy Robot.  He's a throwaway novelty, that crazy loser!  But God love him.

The only thing that really is worth watching:  the opening credits.  The Beatles' "Fool on a Hill" plays over beautifully photographed versions of Barry's art and pastime:  taxidermied mice in elegant poses, like a boy mouse pushing a girl mouse on a swing, etc.  These dioramas make more sense in their static precision than anything in this awful movie.

A diorama Steve Carrell presented to David Letterman when he was on promoting Dinner for Schmucks.