Aug 7, 2010


Gary Melcher's The Fencing Master (1900):
Wall Street Tycoon? Nerd in the Basement?
Pillar of Society or Social Embarrassment?

Dinner for Schmucks: Steve Carrel. Grade: C- + A- = B-

Steve Carrel seems such a likable, decent guy that I hate saying anything negative about his work. However, the opening half-hour or so of Dinner for Schmucks is so vapid that one might be tempted to leave.

But hang on to your popcorn. Some major offbeat humor is on its way, and as long as you’ve been tricked or coerced into the theater in the first place—by your children? your friends? your mate?—you might as well stay for the payoff.

Dinner for Schmucks has not only some weirdly hysterical moments, but also some substance. Targeting the Darwinian fittest of the financial world and their social snobbery has been done before, but the method here strikes me as original and worthwhile.

In the movie, sociopathic Wall Street competition takes the form of fraternity pranks. The top floor offices are full of middle-aged frat boys who run amok in the adult, elite, sadistic layer of commercial America. It’s Enron as Kappa Haffa Assa, and the empty suits full of hubris are appropriately disgusting.

In Dinner for Schmucks, society’s outliers or “losers” are rendered interesting, and therefore valuable humans—without the lie that they are flawless, regular guys or unlucky, adorable innocents. No, they are difficult, annoying personalities; they are outcasts for reasons. But those same features make them more interesting and more decent than the sharks of the cool crowd.

If only the writers and director had found a way to cut the dross. The laughs need to come more often, especially in that dreary, sentimental opening. But beneath its slow and lower-than-sophomoric spells of flop, what the movie proposes about human personality, creativity, and social Darwinism is somewhat profound and troubling. In the final 30 or 40 minutes, it also manages to be hysterical.


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