Does watching two Paul Rudd films back-to-back constitute a Paul Rudd kick? Do such labels matter? At any rate, recently I watched I Love You, Man (2009). My next choice was Dinner for Schmucks (2010). The star of each is, you guessed it, Paul Rudd. In reflecting on this sequence, it made me wonder about actors and actresses that have been in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). My reason for wondering is related to what some consider to be the Star Wars curse. Think of the casts that have been in those series. Now tell me how many of them have had major careers outside of the tales from a galaxy far, far away? There have been some. Harrison Ford, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman come to mind. You could count James Earl Jones, too, I suppose, even if he only provided the voice for Darth Vader. I am getting off track. The point is that Paul Rudd had a nice run before he became Ant Man, but the MCU seems all encompassing. Today’s film, Dinner for Schmucks, is one of those entries.
Dinner for Schmucks does have a kind of interesting start. As the opening credits roll, we see a practiced hand making miniatures for taxidermized mice. There are a boy and girl mouse, and they are set up in various romantic situations. It is a starkly different setting than the one to which it next shifts. Tim Conrad (Paul Rudd) and a couple of his co-workers watch as one of the higher-ups in their company is packing his car in the wake of being fired. Tim preaches consideration to one of their fallen comrades, but he also sees an opportunity for a promotion. His chance comes at the next meeting with the president of the company, Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood). Lance explains that the recent dismissal has led to a large financial loss for the firm, and he is looking for new ideas. Tim seizes the moment, telling those gathered that he has drawn the interest of wealthy Swiss investor Martin Mueller (David Walliams). So impressed is Lance by Tim’s presentation, that he dangles the possibility of a promotion. There is a catch: to seal the deal, he must find an idiot to invite to a monthly dinner (think the film’s title) where they vote who is the biggest schmuck. Tim is caught off guard. On the one hand, he wants to impress Lance, but the immorality of the situation rubs him the wrong way. Further, he wants to get ahead at his job in order to pay for the new life he is hoping to lead with Julie (Stéphanie Szostak), his girlfriend. She is the director of an art gallery, but has yet to accept his several marriage proposals. There is evident love between them, though he is unsure of the intentions of the artist she is currently exhibiting, Kieran Vollard (Jemaine Clement). She is also suspicious of Tom’s description of this dinner, and convinces him that it is a bad idea. The next day he is in the process of trying to get out of the upcoming event when he accidentally hits Barry Speck (Steve Carell), the taxidermist whose hands were seen earlier. Barry is the title schmuck. This is established upon their meeting when Barry attempts to bribe Tim into not calling the police despite being the victim. From this point on, Tim cannot get rid of Barry. Tim also realizes that he has the perfect companion to bring to dinner the next day. Tim attempts to explain this to Julie, and does a horrible job, so much so that she decides to leave him. None of this is helped by Barry, who, through a series of innocent though inept mistakes, continues to make life worse for Tim. This includes inadvertently inviting over Darla (Lucy Punch), an apparently insane woman with whom Tim once had a dalliance. When Darla arrives, Julie takes her for a woman with whom Tim is having an affair, further rupturing their relationship. Tim makes the assumption that Julie would seek comfort from Kieran, and goes to his apartment with Barry to catch them. She turns out not to be there, but Tim learns that Kieran plans to take Julie to his ranch that weekend. Defeated, the next day Tim goes to a brunch with Martin designed to close the deal with his company. Tim leaves for it making Barry promise to sit in his chair and not move. Of course, Barry disregards this, and calls Darla to ask her to fill in for Julie at the brunch. Unsurprisingly, this becomes a disaster with Tim forced to propose to Darla when Martin confuses her for the real Julie. This is taken to another level of awful when Julie makes an appearance. To make amends (finally), Barry uses his contacts at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), being an employee of that agency, to obtain the address for Kieran’s ranch. Tim finds Julie there, but Barry overhears Tim blaming him for all his troubles. This hits Barry hard and does not win over Julie. Hence, Tim is resigned to go to the dinner alone and explain to Lance everything that had happened. Unexpectedly, Tim finds Barry already in attendance. In the process, Barry charms everyone at the party, but particularly Tim. Tim ends up defending Barry and they leave as friends. Back at Tim’s apartment, Julie walks in on Tim apologizing to Barry, and it is what leads to her forgive Tim. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Dinner for Schmucks is not a terribly interesting movie. As a Catholic, I sympathize with Julie when she disapproves of Tim going along with the dinner. The whole thing is designed by people in elite positions in society to make fun of those they deem less fortunate, calling it a “pleasure” to do so. To be fair, Tim realizes the ugliness of such an act from the start, but he puts a lot of pressure on himself to impress others. The terrible job of justifying it as I mentioned above refers to him saying that his participation is a version of himself that needs to do such things in order to get by in life. It does not take a lot of consideration to know that is a terrible thought. However, the most Christian way of looking at this situation actually comes from Kieran. On his ranch, he attempts to explain his pursuit of Julie to Barry while observing a small herd of goats. He points to them and says that they never deny themselves that for which they hunger. This is also symbolized by much of his art being goat related. This directly contradicts Christianity. Jesus clearly states that whoever wishes to follow Him must first deny her or himself. There have been many interpretations of what this means in the intervening centuries. As the Catholic tradition is the one most familiar to me, it is the one I will discuss. A big part of being a Catholic is living out a vocation. No matter which you choose, it involves giving up something for a greater good. A priest gives up marriage, a monk or nun forsakes living in society, and spouses give of themselves for the benefit of another. Though it may not seem like it sometimes, I write this blog for you all. It takes Tim nearly losing everything in a Job-like fashion for him to realize how selfish he has been.
There is nothing provocative about Dinner for Schmucks, in any sense of the word. There is some mild inappropriateness with Darla and Kieran, but nothing that any adult cannot handle. It is a nice, if bland and predictable romantic comedy. If you do not take that as a ringing endorsement, which would be understandable, then you can at least see it for Paul Rudd not playing Ant Man.