Making the Grades
Tim (Paul Rudd) is bucking for a promotion at his asset management firm. Recognized for his ability to schmooze a wealthy new client into the corporate portfolio, he has a shot at moving up to the coveted 7th Floor if he is willing to play a strange game: Search for a schmuck and invite him to his boss’s (Bruce Greenwood) monthly "dinner for idiots." Whoever shows up with the biggest bozo wins the prize. For Tim, that means the big promotion.
Unlike the other executives where he works, Tim’s live-in girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) immediately recognizes the cruel intent of the activity. However her sharp criticism doesn’t deter the determined manager, especially after he meets Barry (Steve Carell), an IRS employee who lands on the hood of Tim’s Porsche while he is busy texting.
After recovering from the forced acquainting, the nerdy looking victim reveals his life’s passion of collecting and arranging dead mice in detailed dioramas. When he whips out a scene of The Last Supper, with Jesus and the apostles all being represented by taxidermically prepared rodents, Tim feels he has found the perfect dinner guest. Extending the invitation, Barry readily accepts—and even shows up a day early.
Barry arrives in the midst of a spat between the couple, and immediately integrates himself into Tim’s life. He creates complete chaos by inadvertently allowing a woman (Lucy Punch) into Tim’s home who has been stalking the corporate climber for three years. By the end of the night, Tim’s apartment is nearly destroyed, his Porsche is beaten and he’s facing a tax audit.
There are moments of genius in this script that are made truly funny by Steve Carell’s very capable performance. But sadly, the movie stoops to the lowest common denominator shared by far too many contemporary comedies to create laughs. Sexual jokes, innuendo and outright explicit discussions permeate many scenes. Partial female and male nudity, with explicit body parts barely covered, is briefly shown. Offensive language (such as profanities, a single sexual expletive and many terms of deity) is heard throughout. And the constant slapstick violence includes the dismemberment of a finger during a fight.
Content aside, the theme itself may present the greatest issue for parents. Reported to be far less cruel than the popular French film, The Dinner Game, upon which Schmucks is based, this production still begs the question: How do we perceive those around us who appear "different?" Thankfully, the final few minutes do attempt to reorient the audience perspective to view the rich executives as the nasty members of the club while the "idiots" claim their right to social acceptance. Yet it’s a weak excuse to justify laughing at marginalized members of society for the last two hours—or to alleviate the lingering guilt we may feel after chuckling at their expense.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Dinner For Schmucks.
Who determines the status of people in society? In this movie, what are some of the common features of characters that are presented as successful versus those who are seen as “schmucks”?
How can we tell when we are laughing with, instead of laughing at someone?