Dinner for Schmucks: Who’s the “Real” Schmuck?

I finally got around to checking out Dinner For Schmucks the other night, and was left contemplating who exactly was the true “schmuck” of the film. My mind wandered throughout the entire duration of the film, but I began to think as a viewer you had choices. You could of course go with Steve Carrell’s character, but why take the cop-out choice with the obvious? Look deeper and I think you’ll find that this movie had a horn of plenty filled with schmucks and not all of them were invited as guests to the film’s final dinner.

According to Dictionary.com (and everyone knows that if you read it on the Internet, it must be true!), a “schmuck” is a an “obnoxious or contemptible person.” From the first moment you meet Steve Carrell’s character, Barry, you are hit with a lovable schmuck vibe. Barry is a simple-minded, dimwitted, strange, little man who makes dead mouse dioramas as a hobby. He stumbles upon Tim, an upcoming equity broker by wondering out into the street to save a dead mouse from certain tire to skull doom. It just so happens that Tim is looking for the perfect “idiot” to invite to a company dinner.

In Tim’s world in order to impress the boss a dinner time idiot. ┬áIt’s company tradition for each member to invite an idiot to dinner, and at the end of the night they award the person who has brought the biggest buffoon. The “idiots” go home none the wiser, and the business men have a good laugh. Surely Barry, a dead mouse diorama building idiot fits the bill perfectly to win first prize and will get Tim the promotion he wants so badly. But little did Tim know, Barry’s quirky hobby is just one small part of the tornado of screw ups known as Barry.

It wasn’t until halfway through this film, as the film kept pressing on about how irritating that Barry was that my mind started shifting gears. Perhaps I was looking for some deeper meaning than a film about making fun of idiots could provide, but I began contemplating if Barry was the true idiot. The more I watched, the more Tim (Paul Rudd) became the true schmuck of the hour to me. In every way, Tim is a truly obnoxious or contemptible person.

The beginning of the film has Tim lamenting about how the upper level people at his job are treated poorly, yet he strives to become one of them. His profit potential plan is mocked by his bosses and co-workers, yet he buys into their fake friendship almost immediately. He whines and moans that he doesn’t feel morally right about inviting an idiot to dinner, but jumps at the chance to invite Barry upon first meeting. He cries foul every time Barry tries to help him out of a situation that in many ways he created himself and never once takes the time to see that Barry (as obnoxious as he can be) is really just trying to be a friend. Every obnoxious thing that Barry does is set up by another contemptible act by Tim. Crazy ex girlfriend at his house- Tim. Lying to girlfriend and investors- Tim. Using Barry to make fun of him for a promotion he only half heartedly wants- Tim. Jealous of wife’s relationship with peculiar artist- Tim. Barry is just along for the ride and helps muck things up, but Tim is the underlying schmuck.

But as the credits rolled I had again shifted my gaze from casting Tim or Barry as the schmuck of the hour to yet another person- myself. You see, the last thing that I wanted to do was declare myself as a schmuck, but in this film about inviting idiots to dinner, I started realizing that in a subliminal sense I was one of the idiots. I fell hook, line and sinker for a film with Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd and despite hearing negative reviews jumped in looking for comedy. Instead I found this heap of mediocre at best garbage. I “paid” for a ticket to their “dinner” and the film mocked me for showing up.

Despite having a short run time, Dinner for Schmucks was full of painfully stale jokes that did get me to laugh at the sheer stupidity of a few situational humor, but never quite had laughing like a true comedy should. I found myself laughing more because I thought I should laugh, rather than laughing because it was funny. The best part of the movie of course is the dinner itself, where Barry challenges others to an “idiot contest” and finds the other “extraordinary people” worthy opponents. Barry’s crazy mouse dioramas in their great detail telling his life story and his “tower of dreamers” setup had me laughing with giant belly laughs. However the tower of dreamers segment is short (shown in the video above) and his true diorama work is shown mostly in the opening credits. I wanted so much more out of this film, and really found myself grasping at straws of humor. Barry may have been the true “schmuck” in this remake of a Italian film, and Tim may have been a schmuck as well but the biggest Schmuck of them all was person who actually put this film in his or her DVD/Blu-Ray player.

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