Date Night


Tina Fey and Steve Carell take a wild ride

Main Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey

Director: Shawn Levy

I have unabashed love for both Tina Fey and Steve Carell.  Love The Office, love 30 Rock, even liked Baby Mama.  But as an eternal skeptic, I was wary of the combination of these two funny people in one movie.  Thus, Date Night scared me a little.  After all, if I didn’t like it, would my fan-girl idolatry be marred forever?  Choosing a movie is harder than it looks.  Fortunately, I was able to get over my faux-anxiety and give the movie the chance it deserved.  For Tina and Steve.

Date Night has a very, very simple premise.  Married couple tries to spice up their routine with a fancy night out on the town, but everything goes wrong.  Fey and Carell are Claire and Phil Foster, married with kids, jobs, fatigue and lethargy.  News of the impending split of some friends has them questioning their own lives and wondering if they have become little more than roommates.

Pause plot summary.  I like this foundation.  Anyone who has been married for any length of time can relate to their feelings at this point in the movie.  The comedy at the beginning is gentle and topical, as Claire puts in her very sexy mouth guard before bed or the couple collapses at the end of a long work day.  Resume plot summary.

As a remedy for their feelings of ennui, the couple decides to change up their usual date night and have dinner at a swanky restaurant in NYC.  Dressed up and feeling sassy, the two swipe a reservation from a no-show couple at a posh eatery, unknowingly stepping into that pair’s extortion mess.  The movie then moves into a series of catastrophes for Claire and Phil as they try first to explain who they really are and later to play Scooby-Doo and solve the mystery.

Date Night is a little schizophrenic.  We start out thinking that we’re in a mild message comedy about marriage and spiral into a silly and ridiculous action comedy.  Weirdly, it works for me.  Yes, you absolutely must place your disbelief high on the shelf for 90% of the film, but that’s okay by me.  The action is uber-extreme, with crooked cops and car chases and ex-military operatives and political shenanigans.  Throwing super-average Phil and Claire into that mix is the crux of the movie – how, precisely, are these regular people supposed to react to this action movie scenario?  That’s where the funny is supposed to be and quite often it hits.

The film is at its best when it’s riffing on the couple’s established home life idiosyncrasies – Phil never closes a drawer (makes clandestine searches difficult), Claire is a casual working mom (those date night heels are tough during a shoot-out).  Fey and Carell have an easy chemistry that fits with an established relationship.  Granted, it’s a relationship where both parties are very adept at clever repartee, but it is a movie, after all.  It’s fun to watch their suburban habits assert themselves even in their current absurd situation.  They don’t turn into super-sleuths, their adversaries are just stupid.

Supporting cast members turn in decent performances, but all really do fit the definition of “supporting”.  Each is there only as a foil for Fey or Carell (usually both).  Mark Wahlberg probably has the best role as a perpetually shirtless former client of Claire who, in addition to a perfectly sculpted body and super-hot girlfriend, has the ability to investigate the Foster’s situation and lend assistance whenever a dues ex machina is required.   James Franco appears in a small but very funny role as one of the original holders of that fateful reservation.

Overall, I liked Date Night.  It’s funny in enough places to keep me entertained and has a nice little message for all us old married folks about being careful what you wish for.  The comedy ranges from topical and sweet to broad and slapstick, the premise veers from low-key marital discord to wild, wacky crime-studded action (with low-key marital discord).  Tina Fey and Steve Carell acquit themselves very well.  It’s always hard for established TV stars to break from their familiar characters so it does take a few scenes for us to separate Claire and Phil Foster from Liz Lemon and Michael Scott (and there are shades of both TV characters sprinkled here and there) but the Fosters grow on you until you actually do care what happens to them.   While not an out of the park home run, Date Night is a more than respectable outing for Fey and Carell, giving them a chance to show that they can indeed play outside their TV box.  And I still love them both, so thanks to the filmmakers for not tarnishing my infatuation with a crappy dud.  Recommended for fans of either lead, old married people or anyone who wants to ogle the spectacular pecs of Marky Mark.

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