(20th Century Fox) Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji Henson, Common, James Franco, Leighton Meester, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, Mila Kunis, Jimmi Simpson. Directed by Shawn Levy
At a certain point in every relationship, routine sets in. That can be deadlier to a marriage then money problems or even infidelity.
The Fosters, tax preparer Phil (Carell) and realtor Claire (Fey) live normal, unprepossessing lives in suburban New Jersey. They have two kids who can be the spawns of Satan but for the most part, are ordinary kids. They pay their taxes, mow their lawn and attend book clubs together. Every week, they go on a date together to the same steak house and always order the potato skins. They play the “what’s their story” game with other diners, imagining some rather colorful goings-on. Sex is occasional, growing more and more occasional.
They are both shocked when one of the couples they are closest to announce that they are splitting up. Brad (Ruffalo) confides in Phil that they had evolved from being a loving couple to being really excellent roommates, while Haley (Wiig) asserts to Claire that it’s the best decision that she’s ever made, that at last she can explore her own sexuality without any constraints and that Claire should “run with the birds,” a reference to a really bad feminist novel their book club is reading (and, you can be sure, one that will pop up again during the movie).
Both of them are secretly concerned that they are now dwelling in a comfortable rut and the other might be getting bored in the relationship, so when the next date night rolls around, Claire puts on makeup and a pretty dress rather than her usual comfortable clothes. Phil, surprised and delighted, resolves to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan rather than their usual steakhouse.
The problem with trying to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan spontaneously is that there is usually a waiting list to get in. Phil and Claire arrive too late to get a walk-in table, so the snooty host dismisses them to the bar, there to wait an eternity in all likelihood.
An opportunity arises when a hostess arrives in the bar, looking for the Tripplehorn party of two. When nobody responds, Phil on the spur of the moment decides to take the reservation of the missing Tripplehorns. Spur of the moment decisions can lead, as we all know, to lifetime regrets.
In this case, it leads to a case of mistaken identity. Two beefy gentlemen (Simpson and Common) show up at the table and firmly but politely ask the Fosters to follow them out. The Fosters, believing they’re from the restaurant, comply and are flabbergasted to see guns being pointed at them and the beefy gentlemen demanding that a flash drive belonging to a well-known mobster be returned to them forthwith.
Threatened with immediate execution and with the beefy gentlemen not believing their assertions that they are not, in fact, the Tripplehorns, Phil tries to stall the beefy gentlemen until an opportunity presents itself to escape. When it does, the Fosters go straight to the police until they are shocked to discover that the two beefy gentlemen are actually cops. Mortified and terrified, they go to a shirtless security expert (Wahlberg) to try and find the elusive Tripplehorns and elude the beefy gentlemen and other beefy gentlemen like them.
There’s plenty to like here, but the best thing about the movie is the chemistry between and Fey and Carell. They’re believable as a married couple who have been married to each other for awhile. There’s obviously love between them, but it isn’t as obviously on display as it might be for newlyweds.
They are just ordinary people caught up in events beyond their control. They don’t whip out submachine guns and start blowing people away, Phil isn’t an ex-Navy SEAL and Claire isn’t a third degree black belt. They are intelligent and inventive, but no more so than any one of us would be. They’re totally believable which gives the movie its heart.
Most of the rest of the characters are meant to be caricatures, particularly Wahlberg as the studly security expert. He spends the entire movie without a shirt and the sight of his pecs and abs gives Phil an inferiority complex the size of Mount Everest. The same sight lights Claire up like a Japanese lantern in the summer night.
Where the movie suffers from is that it takes a scattershot approach to comedy. There are lots of bits of business that are more or less extraneous and are meant to try and generate laughs, but come off as feeling a bit forced – the prime example is the sequence involving a head-on collision between the sports car Phil and Claire have “borrowed” from the security consultant and a taxi leaving the two vehicles hopelessly stuck together with armed bad guys shooting at them and the police (the non-corrupt ones) trying to arrest them.
The resolution of the movie is very sweet and I thought very realistic. While I think my relationship with Da Queen is a bit stronger than the one between Phil and Claire – I don’t see us questioning our relationship because another couple splits up – the movie end on a profoundly sweet note and I don’t have a problem with that. In these tough times, a little sweetness can make a lot of difference.
This is meant to be, I think, a screwball comedy and it certainly has many of those elements. The situation escalates from the slightly off-kilter to the totally absurd. There are plenty of laughs, some of which are a little on the blue side, but this is definitely got moments that will keep you chuckling for awhile.
REASONS TO GO: The chemistry between Carell and Fey is genuine. Wahlberg has a small but memorable role.
REASONS TO STAY: Too much needless “business.” Some of the laughs seem a little forced.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality and sexual situations are the culprits here. There’s a little bit of foul language as well; probably not for the more impressionable sorts but generally fine for most audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Shawn Levy also tackled married couple dynamics in the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.
HOME OR THEATER: Very doable at home.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: The Class and a mini-review of Winter’s Bone to kick off our coverage of the Florida Film Festival.