Monday, September 21, 2009

Dinner For Schmucks

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A group of rich friends have a monthly dinner ritual where they each bring the biggest weirdo they can find, then discreetly make fun of them over the course of the evening.
About: Add yet another project heavy-set in-boy Zach Galifianakis is attached to. The film will co-star Paul Rudd and be directed by Jay Roach. The film is actually a remake of a French film that came out about a decade ago (Having some major déjà vu here after The Tourist review). Galifianakis’ part was originally to be played by Sacha Baron Cohen when he was attached to every comedy in town. When he dropped out, so did the project, and Roach has been trying to get it going again ever since. It should be noted that, like a lot of comedies, these things are rewritten right up to the end, so a few story points may have changed from this relatively older draft.
Writer: Andy Borowitz (Revisions by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio and Jon Vitti -- Further revisions by David Guion & Michael Handelman -- Based on the original French film "Le Diner de Cons" by Francis Veber)
Details: 118 pages (February 2007 draft)

I guess if there’s anyone qualified to review this script, it’s me. I’ve actually seen the original French film it’s based on. In fact, I’ve seen quite a few French comedies. I don’t know what it is about them that I’m drawn to. I mean, the French aren’t exactly known for their sense of humor. But the films are kind of like bastardized versions of our own ridiculous comedies. So they take everything about them that’s ridiculous, and make them even more ridiculous. I don’t know if I ever really laugh at them, so much as marvel at how strangely seductive and amusing they can be. So when I heard there would be an American film based off of a French film, that bases its principles off American films, I thought at the very least I might be able to offer some commentary on how insane that is.

The story is about a group of rich assholes that have a monthly dinner ritual whereby they each find and bring with them a “schmuck.” Someone so out of touch with the world, so strange, so ridiculous, that they’re unaware of just how idiotic they are. The person who brings the strangest “schmuck” ends up “winning”. Our hero, Tim, is on the verge of landing a 100 million dollar investment for his company, and his boss, in anticipation of Tim’s newfound status, has invited him to one of these infamous dinners. Tim is stressing out as there are only a couple of days left before the dinner and he still hasn’t found a schmuck. If he doesn’t impress these men, there’s a good chance they won’t let him into “the club.”

Enter Barry Speck (no doubt Zach Galifianakis), an IRS auditor who recreates famous moments throughout history (think the moon landing) using taxidermied mice. To say that Speck is a bit of an odd duck would be selling him short. The guy recreates history...with dead rodents. Tim realizes right away he’s found his golden ticket and asks Barry to join him for dinner in a couple of days. Barry, not used to any attention whatsoever, is thrilled by the invitation and accepts.

Back at home, Tim prepares his beautiful girlfriend Julie for their Jeffersons moment. But when Tim explains what goes down in these exclusive dinners, Julie is horrified and tells him he shouldn’t go. Of course, since that means throwing everything he’s worked so hard for down the drain, Tim’s quite reluctant. This inaction leads to Julie huffing and puffing and eventually claiming she needs some "time away to think about their relationship". So she leaves. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as she does, Barry shows up. Tim asks him what the hell he’s doing here and Barry says he’s here for the dinner. Tim informs him that the dinner isn’t until tomorrow but Barry refuses to accept this. He’s convinced the dinner is tonight. Tim tries to inform him that he’s the only one between the two who would know when the dinner actually was. But Barry’s not buying it.

After Barry worms his way into Tim’s apartment, he eventually finds out that Julie’s run out on him. This hits Barry particularly hard because he experienced a particularly harsh dumping himself. After talking it through, Barry convinces Tim that Julie is probably cheating on him with her slimy boss, Kieren. Hence begins the main thrust of the story – Tim and Barry desperately trying to prevent Julie from being with Kieren. Naturally, whatever plan they come up with, Barry ends up making it ten times worse than it would’ve been had they done nothing at all. When Tim realizes just how disastrous Barry is, he tries to get rid of him. But the thing about Barry is, once he’s in your life, he doesn’t leave.

For a movie called “Dinner For Schmucks”, it’s somewhat odd that the dinner doesn’t happen until the last 30 pages of the screenplay, but like I mentioned before, this is a French film. And for better or worse, the French throw logic, along with movie conventions, out the window.

There are some good things and some bad things here. One issue I had was Julie deciding she needed to "get away" because of the schmuck dinner. I mean come on. There are worse problems going on in relationships *every day*. If that’s what’s going to break you up, then keep walking honey, cause you were never going to make it in the first place. One thing that will undoubtedly work though is Zack Galifianakis as Barry. I mean, if there was ever a more perfect marriage between actor and character, I’d like to see it. Barry is such an odd weirdo and Galifianakis has so claimed the crown on odd weirdos, that the two couldn’t be more right for each other. But that doesn't necessarily make it funny. And that's where Schmucks runs into some trouble. Is this movie supposed to make you laugh? Or is it supposed to make you uncomfortable with Barry's character? Cause it definitely achieves the latter. I'm not so sure it achieves the former.

The jury will be deliberating on this one for sure. I think at best it can be a solid middle-of-the-road comedy. At worst it can be a huge misfire, with the audience sort of wondering what the focus is and seeing the humor as too weird. Regardless of what it becomes, the script isn’t quite up to snuff. It would be interesting to see what’s happened since, but I can't recommend this draft.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I try to preach this to any writer who will listen. It’s one of my big things and that’s why I keep harping on it. Make sure your script abides by real-life logic, not movie-world logic. I simply did not buy this idea that Julie would get so upset about a business dinner that she'd leave Tim. This falls into the "movie logic" world, where you need something to happen (in this case, Tim and Julie need to be split up) so you come up with a bogus reason to do so, regardless of if it would ever happen in real life. I'm telling you, readers and audiences aren't dumb. They'll sniff this shit out. I realize there's some leeway involved in comedies, but not on the critical plot turns that set up your movie. You gotta make sure that stuff is 100% believable.