Monday, April 12, 2010

Multiple Perspectives: Date Night


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I've always enjoyed reading the countless different perspectives of films. For every movie released, their are people who love it, hate it, or couldn't care less about it. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have created the ultimate perspectives calculator, but the number isn't quite enough. These are three of the most interesting takes on Date Night that I could find. You can read my "Sparknotes" version of the reviews below, but I've also linked to each of the individual pieces. Decide for yourself who got the best of this movie.

Michael O’Sullivan: Funny? You bet your minivan it’s funny. 4/5 Stars.
  • It ain't what Carell and Fey do; it's the way they do it. 
  • Regardless of the silliness of the situation -- or, in truth, because of it -- they're a joy to watch.
  • The premise of the movie is itself somewhat run-of-the-mill. Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum") from a script by Josh Klausner, the story looks like just another "The Out-of-Towners": A couple of middle-aged fuddy-duddies get in trouble in the big city and spend 90 minutes going through contortions to clear their names, to mildly amusing effect. In the hands of, say, a Greg Kinnear and a Sarah Jessica Parker, the thing could be a disaster. It's not. Not by a long shot.
  • That's because Carell and Fey have something that no movie, no matter how predictable, can stifle. It's called chemistry, but it's not the romantic kind. Instead, it's the power that each of them has to crack the other up.
  • It doesn't make sense. It doesn't have to. All it needs to do is make us laugh.



  • But comedy isn't a branch of mathematics—the formula actually works in reverse. The Office might have the critical backing and the Emmys, but it's a dwindling import that nobody will talk about in 10 years (do they still even talk about it now?).
  • If the stars had been—for example—Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, it wouldn't be worth catching even on TBS. But Carell is such the unusual film actor (he got his start on The Daily Show, after all) that he can make even the most mundane line pop.
  • The premise is like Charlie's Angels  without the angels.
  • Because Carell has such a gentle onscreen presence, he brings out the best in his female leads. Who knew that Anne Hathaway had action-babe potential before Get Smart? Or that Catherine Keener could be so Julia Roberts–lovable in Virgin? He also transformed the normally dramatic Juliette Binoche in Dan in Real Life, a better romantic comedy than anything Hugh Grant has done in the last 10 years. In Date Night, Carell is the cake batter that holds up Fey's icing.
  • Carell might not get the onscreen recognition that he deserves—yet—but give him time. Like Ben Stiller, he's a thinking man's comic, with the potential for crossing over into drama.

  • It must be said that “Date Night” — in which a suburban married couple out for an evening in Manhattan endure car chases and the unwanted attention of thugs with guns — is superior to most recent movies of its kind, the marital action comedy. This is not saying much: better than “The Bounty Hunter” or “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” is not quite the same as “good.”

    Though Ms. Fey shows occasional flashes of the smart, anxious sarcasm that drives Liz Lemon through the showbiz tumult of “30 Rock,” and though you can’t look at Mr. Carell’s face without inferring the antic cluelessness of Michael Scott in “The Office,” both performers are constrained by the drab formula demanded by long-form, big-screen entertainment. 

    A flurry of outtakes accompanying the end credits suggests how much livelier this movie might have been if they had been allowed to improvise everything, or had just written the script themselves without regard for plot twists and character arcs and all the other creaky Hollywood machinery that keeps them running frantically from one set piece to the next.

     But let me just say that “Date Night,” like so many other films of its type, too often relies on words, catchphrases and inflections that signify a generally accepted notion of funniness rather than being, you know, actually funny.

    “Date Night,” not untypically, tries to go both meta- and sub-, to be straightforwardly shticky, archly self-conscious and also, in the end, sweet and sincere. This should not be an impossible feat, and Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey might have been able to pull it off — if they had only been permitted to try.


    Questions

    Do Fey and Carell have enough talent to separate this from the trashier and more  produced romantic comedies of the year?

    Would the movie have been better if Fey and Carrell had written the script themselves?

    Is a good romantic comedy one that breaks the conventions of its genre, or is it one that succeeds at portraying standard material in a fresh way?
     

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