Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Even the couches couldn't save it

One of the reasons my wife and I love going to the Landmark on Pico is that occasionally, you get one of the couch theaters. That's right, of the approximately 12 screening rooms, two of them are equipped with couches. These screening rooms seat about 25-30 people total, in couches that accommodate anywhere from one to three people. Whether or not you can rightly call it a couch when it seats only one person, the single-person "couches" have the same leather-cushion stylings that make it a more comfortable viewing experience than we're usually used to, so the term seems to fit. (Oh, and the seats are assigned, which prevents someone from getting there early and stretching his/her entire body across a three-seat couch.)

We never specifically plan to see a movie just because it'll be in a couch theater. On the times that we've actually tried to do that -- "Let's go see a movie in the couch theater tonight" -- it's either something we've already seen, or something we don't want to see. After all, for them to screen a movie where the maximum possible seating per screening is 30 people, the movie either has to be fringe to begin with, or on its way out after running for several weeks. So the times we've ended up in a couch theater have always happened by surprise.

In fact, the very first time we went to this theater, right after it had been renovated, was to see Timur Bekmambetov's Day Watch, the sequel to Night Watch, in the summer of 2007. Already in love with the beautiful renovations to the lobby/snack bar/etc., we experienced the coup de grace upon walking into the theater and seeing a cozy room full of couches. We were disappointed with the movie, but enthralled by the viewing experience. I saw Once in such a couch theater about six weeks later. It was one of my favorite films of the year, and the couches made it even better.

Then it took more than two years for me to return. Somehow, the movies just never lined up correctly. Our triumphant return to the couch theater was last November, when we saw The Men Who Stare at Goats. Loved that movie, loved that viewing experience as well.

And so it was with some amount of excitement that we realized our 2:20 showing of Dinner for Schmucks yesterday afternoon would be in one of these screening rooms. The movie had been out for two weeks and its viewership was certainly on the wane, so the couch theater was an appropriate home for it.

But never before have those couches felt so uncomfortable.

Simply put, we should have trusted our initial instincts about the movie. When I heard that a remake of Francis Veber's The Dinner Game was coming out this summer as a vehicle for Steve Carell, I was instantly turned off by the idea. It wasn't because I was protecting the integrity of the original -- my wife and I saw it and liked it, but it's one of those movies I remember almost nothing about. No, it's because I've been down on Steve Carell for quite awhile now. I skipped his first two movies of the year (Date Night and Despicable Me) in part because he was in them, though I hear each movie has its merits.

But then the trailers changed both of our minds, and Dinner for Schmucks quickly became a priority. We almost saw it on opening weekend, and then had a busy weekend last weekend with our baby shower. So we scheduled it for our next available opening, yesterday. Which could be, depending on a variety of factors, our last theatrical screening together before our first child is born. At which point, everything changes, and a movie night will become a real rarity indeed, involving a babysitter, and possibly leaving your phone on vibrate in case something goes wrong. (The baby's due date is September 5th, but we are kind of expecting it will come before the end of August.)

Well, suffice it to say that the movie is all over the map. Its most obviously problem is structural. They don't even get to the titular dinner until the third act. Before that, it's a bunch of silly set pieces that involve a bunch of Three's Company-style misunderstandings involving Paul Rudd's character, his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak), his stalker (Lucy Punch), and the artist whose show his girlfriend is curating (Jemaine Clement). Carell's character is the special ingredient that causes each incident to be misconstrued. Let me just say that it's exhausting spending more than an hour waiting for this dinner to arrive, and having to endure the branching off of numerous subplots -- Carell's character also has an ex-wife he's pining after and a rivalry with an IRS agent played by the newly overexposed Zach Galifianakis, who has the power of mind control. The dinner only arrives after the end-of-the-second-act crises, at which point, you've had it up to here.

Oh, and did I mention that it's really not very funny? I only chuckled a few times, and they were mostly in the promising first 15 minutes.

There were two good things about the movie: 1) Jemaine Clement. His out-there artist, who produces these gothic paintings of himself in which he wears antlers and hooves, is consistently a hoot. You wish he had been part of a better movie. 2) Carell's much-heralded "mouseterpieces." They deserve to be heralded, but they also point at one of the reasons this is a dumb movie. The thing that's supposed to be ridiculous about Carell's character is that he makes these dioramas featuring stuffed mice, posing in famous paintings or other scenes out of his imagination. The thing is, they're really good -- most people would be proud to have the talent Carell's character has. But the dead mice playing dress-up are supposed to be the main source of mockery and derision surrounding him.

So as I was watching, and as the movie was sinking down into the mire of irredeemability, I found myself shifting my position dozens of times -- I couldn't get comfortable in the most comfortable seating accommodations you can find. Which goes to show you that comfort is truly a matter of perspective. If you're watching a great film, you can sit in a hard wooden seat with nails poking out of it, and not notice.

If you're watching Dinner for Schmucks, even the world's most comfortable barcalounger would feel like a torture device.


Mike Lippert said...

Oh you're being too harsh, I thought this movie is hilarious? You complain that the dinner doesn't swing by until the third? It's the worst part of the movie. I would have rather had a real story about these people instead of needing to get to a dinner that is simply devised to mock them. I get that you don't like Steve Carrell from this piece but I don't understand why. I find the man endearing because he never plays to the camera. He commits to this character and truely believes he's a normal guy. It makes the movie kind of sweet. Zack G overexposed? What of significance has he been in since the Hangover. He got a huge laugh for one scene in Up in the Air, he was in G-Force which, ya wasn't good, but he gave that part what it required and I haven't seen Youth in Revolt. These are nothing parts. Overexposed would imply that he's A) in every other movie and B) he's at the center of every other movie and not being funny, which, as far as I've seen, he always has been. I guess you didn't like this movie as much as me.

Vancetastic said...

Well, part of my problem was that with most of the things Barry was confused about, I didn't believe for a minute he'd be confused about any of them. That's a failure of the writing more than it is a failure of Carell's. I don't think Carell was BAD in this movie, but that's a far way from being good. Sometimes you just stop believing in an actor, what can I say?

As for Zach G., since The Hangover I've seen him in Youth in Revolt, Operation Endgame, Gigantic and the trailers for It's Kind of a Funny Story. (It doesn't help that Operation Endgame and Gigantic were both horrible.) I think I've reached that point where I accelerate my overexposure scale, such that if I can tell a person WILL BE overexposed very soon, it's almost the same as if they're already overexposed. And besides, I think overexposure is a fairly personal thing -- there's not really an objective standard. If you don't like someone, chances are, you'll find them overexposed a lot sooner than someone else will. (Then again, I don't know exactly what my point is, because I do actually like Zach G. That could be why I'm fearing the overexposure, because I want to keep liking him.)

I agree that the dinner is the worst part ... but doesn't that tell you something about a movie called Dinner for Schmucks? It may have been the worst part, but it's the high-concept hook -- and it's basically a throwaway scene. Paul Rudd doesn't even get to have his own emotional climax with his girlfriend there. All that happens is that Zach G. and Steve C. have a mind control/brain control fight and a woman channels a dead lobster. Oh yeah, and a blind fencer thrashes around for no good reason for about five minutes.

What can I say, Mike, sometimes brilliant people disagree!

Mike Lippert said...

Ha, touche. Although I will say this, I don't think it's fair to claim someone is overexposed for movies that came before thei big break as was the case with Gigantic (awful indeed) and I'm not sure about Endgame.

Vancetastic said...

That's fair. However, like I said, I think overexposure can be a very subjective thing. I think an actor who is celebrated for being quirky or bringing a certain quality to a movie can get overexposed more quickly, because they get hired for roles where they do basically that one thing they're good at. I'm not saying Zach G. is necessarily that one-dimensional -- I think it's too early to tell -- but I think he's clearly a person people fell all over themselves to hire based on The Hangover, wanting lightning to strike twice. Just knowing that that surge of hiring is going on can be off-putting -- Zach G. probably has ten films already in the pipeline, which means if he isn't overexposed now, he will be soon.

If someone is a genuine star and they've got a certain "it" -- again, too early to say on Zach G. -- then you aren't that quick to say they're overexposed. Or if someone's been around a long time. You don't call Nicolas Cage "overexposed" because, well, you've already been exposed to him for so long, his widespread exposure to us is pretty much accepted as a given.