When it comes to comedy, there’s a fine line between making the audience laugh and just making people uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, I felt more of the later in “Dinner for Schmucks,” the new comedy from director Jay Roach (the man behind the “Meet the Parents” films).
Like those films, Roach has orchestrated a comedy that lacks laughs - mainly because I felt bad during the awkward situations that continually unfold in the film.
Paul Rudd stars as Tim, a guy looking to climb the corporate ladder who sees an opportunity when he is invited by superiors to a top-secret dinner. The meal is anything but a business meeting, with Tim asked to bring some unsuspecting guests to compete in a contest to determine the biggest idiot.
At first Tim is reluctant until he has a chance encounter with Barry (Steve Carell), a reclusive tax agent who likes to create dioramas with dead mice. Tim quickly decides Barry is the perfect candidate and takes him under his wing, only to have Barry wreak havoc on everything in his life.
I admit the premise sounds promising and with Carell, Rudd and Zach Galifianakis in the cast, I had decent expectations for the film, a remake of a popular French comedy.
Although there were moments that made me laugh, I spent more time cringing and feeling pity for Rudd’s character and a combination of sadness and disgust at Carell’s character. “Dinner” proves to be less about the actual dinner and more about the budding relationship between the two main characters - as a result, the film bogs down in a series of embarrassing situations.
It gets so uncomfortable that by the time the film gets to the dinner, I wasn’t able to appreciate the somewhat decent payoff (at least until it gets on its soap box in the final act).
Of course, I could be in the minority. “Schmucks” opened a strong No. 2 at the box office, while “Meet the Parents” and “Meet the Fockers” were both big hits. It looks as if there is an audience for this kind of comedy. But if you’re like me, and you prefer to keep your laughs and cringes separate, then you should probably just skip this “Dinner.”
Also in theaters
Arriving in Bowling Green after several weeks in limited release is “The Kids Are All Right” (B), the Sundance Film Festival darling that is a solid film, but not quite in the elite status that pre-release buzz suggested.
“Kids” stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as Nic and Jules, a seemingly happy lesbian couple raising two teens, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (Mia Wasikowska), the products of artificial insemination.
The happy family gets tested when the teens hunt down their birth father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a drifter in his late 30s looking for stability in his life.
The cast is so talented that even with an inferior script they would be able to make the final product somewhat interesting. Fortunately, director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko gives them a script that is solid and plays to all the actors’ strengths.
Bening’s role is probably the trickiest, but she pulls it off well. Hutcherson and Wasikowska are both very good, while Moore - a personal favorite - seems a bit out of place. I think Moore’s role, which is critical to a shift in tone in the second half, would have been better in the hands of a lesser known actress and that Moore’s great resume actually distracts from her performance. It makes the relationship between Nic and Jules feel a little gimmicky, and only makes the previously mentioned shift feel more forced.
It’s a big flaw for a film that has award-season expectations, but it’s not a fatal one. I’m not sure there are many recent releases that understand and explore the family dynamic better than “Kids.” That alone makes the film worth a look, but not quite the must-see that many have made it out to be.
“The Kids Are All Right” is rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use. It opens Friday at Greenwood Mall 10.