Who Will Root for the Underdog? Movies Reviewed: The Parking Lot Movie, Dinner for Schmucks

Posted in Anthropology, College, comedy, Comics, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Movies, Music, Uncategorized, Underground, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 7, 2010

A few weeks ago, I somehow found myself with a pair of tickets to Just for Laughs at Massey Hall – that’s the Montreal stand up comedy festival which now has a Toronto version as well. And I hadn’t been to a stand-up comedy stage show in a building like Massey Hall since… well never. Anyway, I guess stand-up comedy appeals to a particular sense of humour; (at least in the show I went to) it’s guys on a stage — the featured act was Brad Garret from Everybody Loves Raymond– making fun of the people in the audience. Racial and ethnic stereotypes, fat jokes, and jokes about any and all women. You know, the things obnoxious acquaintances or distant relatives of yours start saying around the time the first 2-4 has disappeared. I guess part of the appeal is the audience squirming in discomfort and shock at the rudeness and meanness of the people on stage.

And what does this have to movies?

Well, movies, specifically comedies, have a whole subgenre built around picking on the little guy, the “loser”. In general, Hollywood has always been on the side of the person who’s made fun of, picked on, or oppressed – even if the audience gets to vicariously watch the poor guy being teased or mocked. There’s still always the same ending: the bullies get punished and the underdogs, the people at the bottom, get their long due just desserts.

But there is some nipping at the edges of this conventional theme. The various TV idol contests have parts where they show how bad a singer is or how terribly they’re dressed, and the judges enjoy laughing at them and insulting them. And some college movies, like “Tucker Max: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” take the side of the privileged ones, making fun of the women they try to have sex with (or actually purchase, in the case of strippers or prostitutes.)

This week I’m looking at two movies that follow the classic Hollywood model, both funny movies about sort of sad and lonely people. Are they really funny? Should these movies be making fun of these people? (And why are they always guys?)

The Parking Lot Movie

Dir: Meghan Eckman

My first thoughts, before I saw this movie, were: Oh my God – a movie about a parking lot? Is there no line documentary makers won’t cross? No topic too mundane?

This documentary’s about a bunch of hipsters / college students / slackers / extremely over-educated bunch of guys in their twenties who hang out in this legendary parking lot – the Corner Parking Lot. It’s their job. The guys (and they’re all guys) sit in a little wooden booth, like an oversized dog house, and raise and lower the wooden turnstyle barrier (they call it the gate) and collect the money. Half of them look like Zach Galifianakis, the rest look like either tattooed guys in an indie band, or else perpetual grad students.

First of all, it’s an indie parking lot, not one of those big-label corporate ones. They’re so fake. This parking lot’s the real thing, dude.

It’s in the middle of what looks like a bar district in a college town (Charlottesville, Virginia), so you get all these sorority girls and Tucker Max wannabes in their hummers stumbling back to their cars after last call.

They guys who work there all really HATE their customers. It’s the parkers vs the park-ees.

The director has a really good eye. There are some images that are just so funny – I don’t know why — they just grab you.  Like a shot of one of the guys guy listening to music on his headphones, bobbing his head as he counts a big wad of parking lot cash… brilliant.

You have to wonder – are these guys actually all serial killers or something? Naaah, just graduate students in philosophy and anthropology. They’ve broken down all the variables in a parking lot and taking them as far as they can possibly go. Like the wooden turn-style gate —they spray paint stenciled messages on them – a different one each day. Or they play an inane catch-toss game with the orange rubber pylons.

And then there are the faceless parkers. GRRrrrrrrrr… anyone ever worked in the service industry? You can see how even just one obnoxious, lazy, overfed, douchey-frat boy, a single nasty parking lot customer, these paragons of entitlement driving 100K Hummers who argue over a 50 cent charge… I feel deep sympathy for the parking lot guys.

This movie is way better than Kevin Smith’s legendary Clerks. Looks better too – it’s actually nicely coloured, with outdoor oversaturated night scenes, stop-motion clouds, everything looking like an MTV indie music doc, except they’re not celebs. It’s got that slick, handmade look, complete with a white hiphop video toward the end about the parking lot, complete with hand gestures. (CPL! CPL!)

I don’t know what it is, but this movie really cracked me up, despite it’s random acts of senseless, vindictive anger and complaining. And even though it enjoys making fun of the slackers, the movie is decidedly from their point of view. It keeps to the Hollywood rule of rooting for the underdogs.

“Dinner for Schmucks”

Dir: Jay Roach

(based on the French film “The Dinner Game”)

This movie is a bit different; it shows the oddballs of the world (and the troubles they seem to bring) but through the eyes of a “normal” guy.

In this movie, a guy named Tim (Paul Rudd) works for some financial company in a highrise somewhere. He’s not a parking lot attendant but, in his mind, he may as well be. He’s a middle-level executive, stuck in a rut. But then he has an idea – he speaks up at a meeting. Tim had an idea! He says he can get this eccentric swiss millionaire to invest in their company. Great! He’ll finally move upstairs. But, (says his boss surrounded by his yes-men) first you have to prove yourself by showing up at a dinner, and bringing an idiot, pretending to be his friend – so we can laugh at him.

That’s terrible! But when he accidentally meets Barry (Steve Carell)  — a guy who works for the IRS tax office, a hobbyist who stuffs dead mice and dresses them up, and uses them in elaborate dioramas – when he meets Barry, Tim feels like a gift just landed in his lap.

Anyway, the plot creaks on. it’s a so-so story bandied together with cheap rubber bands. Tim’s fiancé is a curator, and he’s worried she’ll run off with a New Zealand artist (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) who wears fake goat horns to compliment his “animal magnetism”. Meanwhile, Tim has a bad back. And he’s also being stalked by an ex-girlfriend, a crazed dominatrix. And then there’s bearded Zach Galifianakis playing a co-worker of Barry’s at the IRS who is studying hypnotic mind control.

The story all works its way toward the party – what will happen there? Like the movie itself, it’s a venue for lots of TV comedians to do their schtick. Lots of people you see on the Daily Show or other TV shows, and a lot of people who look vaguely familiar but you’re not sure from where. They each have their moment in the sun to act funny-stupid. Never from their clever repartee, always from the uncomfortableness or strangeness of their personalities.  It’s up to Steve Carell’s super weird but cuddly and lovable Barry to carry the movie. The plot won’t do it. The problem is he’s sometimes funny, sometimes just stupid. His character isn’t really that great, despite the fake funny teeth, and the bad windbreaker he wears… he’s just not that consistent, and seems willing to do things just for a laugh, even when it’s totally out of character.

Is the movie there to make fun of people? Yeah, but that’s what comedians want: For people to laugh the loudest when they’re on the screen. Dinner for Schmucks is a funny — but not that funny — summer comedy. But I do give it two points for managing to avoid toilet humour, all too common in most comedies.

One Response

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  1. Sean Swag said, on August 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    i heard this movie was sooo funny


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