Monday, May 3, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews *Date Night*

It was pretty much obvious that I would see Date Night even though the reviews weren't amazing. I have been a big fan of Tina Fey ever since she and Jimmy Fallon were Weekend Updating--no one has more slang terms for "vagina" in her repetoire and no one says them with more flare.

I always forget why I like Steve Carrell--unlike most humans, I've never seen *The Office*--and then I remember *Little Miss Sunshine* (which I rewatched over the holidays and still love). Oh yeah, and he was the *40-Year-Old Virgin* too. Yeah, I like Steve Carrell plenty.

So it's disappointing to see such stellar comedians struggling to elevate this film above "fine" or "funny enough" or "not a total waste of money." And it is *slightly* better than those things, but largely on account of their efforts. The script is solidly silly, which is no way to be. There are no risks, there are no non-stock characters (sexy calculating babysitter, foozball playing loser male friend, teary-eyed histrionic female friend, supercompetent superattractive male special ops...should I go on? You can probably guess if you've ever seen...any other movie).

The premise is that Claire and Phil Foster's marriage, bogged down by kids, work and life in the burbs, has lost its spark and, in a reasonably pathetic effort to regain it, Phil proposes to take them to the hottest restaurant in Manhattan on a Friday night without a reservation. Which, sorry, makes Phil look like a moron, when he clearly plays the character as a reasonably bright guy.

There are a *lot* of slipups like that in the script--some far worse. On Phil and Claire's first depicted date night, Claire mentions that the next evening they have bookclub. At bookclub, she mentions that the evening after that, they have a date. Who has a date every other evening, especially with two small childrens and another excursion on the intervening evening (she says with a touch of envy?) Also, Phil is later described as a "tax lawyer" though the shot of him at work shows him explaining a modest tax refund to his dumbass clients--something *accountants* and their assistants do. Oh, and that poster showing Carrell wearing lipstick and Fey with a kissprint on her face? Inexplicable, because that scene doesn't happen in the movie.

I'm harping--this is minor stuff, but indicative of a film made with a minimum of care. So Claire and Phil steal an unclaimed reservation at the restaurant by impersonating the reservationees, only to find themselves help to account for those folks' attempt at blackmail. The best part of the whole movie is when they are dragged out into the alley midmeal by evil henchmen. Claire, thinking they're just in trouble for the reservation hijinx, takes her bowl of expensive and fabulous rissotto with her. When one of the thugs knocks it out of her hand, she cries, "Great, now I'm going to have to pick that rissotto up of the ground to eat it!" Ha!

Should I get into the plot thickeners? I should not get into those, for those are dumb. They go to a spooky boathouse in Central Park, they break into a realty firm, they steal a car and crash it into a cab that gets stuck on the grill, they are forced to pose as strippers...blah blah blah. It's all highly unlikely yet utterly predictable, and hard to even care--obviously, for such likeable people, things are going to work out just fine.

But they are so nice, so charming and funny and self-effacing, so clearly much smarter than whoever wrote the's a pleasure to watch these two work. Apparently, bits of the show were improvised, and it's pretty easy to tell which ones--the ones with funny voices, assumed characters, a measure of confidence completely out of keeping with the domestic schlubs these two are supposed to be.

On their dates, Claire and Phil play a game where they spy on people in the restaurant and try to guess what their life stories are. These stories are fairly funny, and supposed to convey, I suppose, Claire and Phil's lifelong committment and intimacy. But that doesn't work--Fey and Carrell don't have that sort of chemistry (they don't kiss until the very end of the movie, and that one is totally a joke). They do *have* chemistry, but it's that of two professional comics who respect each other and are happy to riff off each others' one-liners. The restaurant brain-storming sessions are funny because they're the actors trying to top each other.

Who is supposed to be the target market for this movie? I'm worried it's actually me--30somethings who want to cling to the delusion that, just because we haven't bought minivans yet, we are still somehow cool. No, wait, maybe it's 30somethings who want to be convinced that even thought they *have* bought minivans, they are still cool enough to solve crimes.

Well, it doesn't matter, because once you are in your 30s, you aren't cool unless you own a bomber jet, so we can all give it up to the next generation: my students who went to see *Kickass*. I almost went to see it too, but I heard the violence was gratuitous so I didn't. Uncool!

But I was pretty excited to hear Tina Fey's latest slang term for vagina. That counts as immature, right? Anyway, I was not disappointed.



Amy said...

Your review confirms exactly what I feared from watching the previews for this movie. I think Tina Fey and Steve Carell are possibly the chocolate cake and gravy of comedy: separately amazing, combined considerably less amazing. Either way, Tina Fey's "Colonel Angus" skit on SNL will still be one of my favourites.

Ransermo said...

It sounds like what I would expect from Date Night. :)
Becky, do you like superhero movies? Kickass is very much a lower end superhero movie (all flash). It's the Blade movie for the 2010 kids. As with most things, movies go in cycles. :)

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

I sometimes like superhero movies, but only if they are brilliant. For example, I'm in a bit of a lather over *Ironman 2* coming out in 2 days.

Amy, I love the cake/gravy analogy, but I actually think Fey and Carell could work together brilliantly, but only in a film that made it clear they never ever had sex with each other, nor wanted to. Because they never would.