Dinner for Schmucks

Asking the ticket seller at the AMC Empire 25 for a ticket to “Dinner for Schmucks” felt strange. How did the word “schmuck” ever make it past the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), the conservative organization that assigns movie ratings? For those who do not know, “schmuck” is a Yiddish term whose literal meaning refers to male genitalia, but it is also a colloquialism for someone who is a jerk. Through common usage I guess “schmuck” has become an accepted part of American slang, as have other Yiddish words, its origin more or less forgotten.

“Dinner for Schmucks” is a remake of a French movie “Le diner de Cons,” (1998). The French title, a French-speaking friend informed me, is essentially the same as the title of the American remake. “Le diner de Cons” was released here simply as “The Dinner Game.” The title notwithstanding, “Dinner for Schmucks” is further evidence that Americans should stop doing remakes of French movies.

The premise of both films is that a group of friends has a weekly dinner in which each friend has to bring an “idiot,” someone they consider to be a fool. The friend who brings the biggest “idiot” is the winner. In both versions the main character has a series of misadventures caused by his well meaning, but unwitting, “idiot” prior to the dinner, which threaten to destroy our hero’s personal life. The hero and his “idiot” then race about trying to fix the problems.

The contrast between the French original and the American remake could be seen as a study of how our current popular culture has systematically lowered the taste of the masses. The original, while not likely to make it into any pantheon of great movies, is a funny, neatly constructed, well acted farce, with a handful of characters, taking place mostly in one apartment. The American remake is loud, over the top, over acted, over produced and really not funny. The reason? The story feels unmotivated, as do the characters and situations. Even in a silly farce there has to be a believable undercurrent to the story and characters. It is interesting that in the French film the characters do not even make it to the “idiot” dinner. In the American version they go to the dinner where we get to see all of the “idiots” who are, par for the course, ridiculous, over done and unfunny, something already given away in the film’s trailer. To be fair, the audience with whom I saw “Dinner for Schmucks” certainly seemed to enjoy it (that is, when they were not distracted checking their email and instant messages on their iPhones).

Dinner for Schmucks, Director Jay Roach, 2010, Paramount Pictures, 110 minutes, rated PG-13

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on August 1, 2010, in New. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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