Wonder where on earth the idea for “Dinner for Schmucks” came from? Well, it’s this little French farce called “Le Diner de Cons” a.k.a. “The Dinner Game.” The two films are far different from one another based on having seen this film and the trailers for “Schmucks,” but both revolve around a business dinner where men bring idiots to be made fun of. Here is my review of the late ’90s comedy. To help you understand, the character of Francois will be Steve Carell’s character in tomorrow’s film and Pierre will be Paul Rudd.
It doesn’t get much more classic than a French farce, which is exactly what “Les Diner de Cons” or “The Dinner Game” is at heart. Francis Veber’s film stays sharper than most modern farces, however, by merely being able to stick with just a handful of characters and only a couple subplots. To weave comic mayhem in such a simplistic way is rare, but “Dinner” focuses on character and a simple message, both of which help transform a timeless comedy formula into a witty, hilarious and surprisingly touching film.
It all starts with Jacque Villeret, a versatile actor in both comedic and dramatic ability, who plays the sweet-natured idiot Francois Pignon. Francois is invited by Pierre Brochant, a successful young married man without kids, to a dinner party that Brochant and his friends host each week to see who can bring the biggest idiot to the dinner. Francois qualifies easily with his chubby, balding appearance and his obsession with making models of famous landmarks out of match sticks.
Villeret commands this film despite his character behaving subordinately to Pierre (Thierry Lhermitte). With the flick of a switch, Villeret goes from making the film an outrageous laugh fest to something curious to something poignant. We go wherever he takes us and all the stops are enjoyable.
The film takes place essentially in one evening. Pierre has invited Francois over to his apartment prior to the dinner party against his wife Christine’s wishes, but earlier that day Pierre threw out his back and he can hardly move. When Pierre receives a phone call from his wife who tells him that she’s leaving him for good, the hilarity begins, ironically. Out of pity, Francois offers to help Pierre discover where his wife’s gone so he can make things right. Pierre agrees, but Francois only continues to muck things up, much to our delight, with every simple task. And just as it looks like he’s about to go home on his merry way, he finds a sneaky way to make himself valuable to Pierre once more.
As the film reaches its conclusion (and rather quickly with an 80-minute run time), it becomes abundantly clear that this film is all about posing the obvious question: who’s the real idiot? Francois acts it, but it’s Pierre’s life that’s crumbling before him. For a short burst of farcical comedy, that’s just the perfect moral to wrap this hysterical tale up with some significance. “The Dinner Game” does not set out with the purpose of only desiring audience laughs, but something they can take away too. You’re likely never to think about the bizarre people you meet in the same way again.
The Dinner Game
Written and directed by Francis Veber
Starring: Jacque Villeret, Thierry Lhermitte