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Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Date Night (2010)

* * * 1/2

Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey

What's not to like about Date Night? It stars two thoroughly likeable actors, features funny supporting turns from Mark Wahlberg, James Franco and Mila Kunis, it has a genuinely funny script, and is helmed by the director of - actually, having just glanced at Shawn Levy's IMDB page, never mind what else he's directed. The point is, Date Night is really good.

Steve Carell and Tina Fey star as Phil and Claire Foster, a nice suburban couple in a bit of a rut. Sure, they make a point of having a date night every week, but the spark has definitely started to fade. After discovering that friends who seemed happy are set to get a divorce, both Claire and Phil realize that they need to make a little more effort in their relationship to avoid the same fate. As part of this effort they get dressed up and head into the city to try a new restaurant, but when getting a table proves to be next to impossible, Phil claims that they're the Tripplehorns, a couple who actually do have a reservation but are nowhere to be seen.

Taking the reservation proves to be a fatal mistake as soon afterwards Phil and Claire are confronted by a couple of goons (Jimmi Simpson and Common), who reveal that the Tripplehorns have been using a stolen flash drive to blackmail Joe Miletto (Ray Liotta). After escaping from Miletto's men, Phil and Claire track down her former client, Grant Holbrooke (Wahlberg), a security expert with an aversion to shirts who helps them locate the real Tripplehorns. I won't spoil the turns the plot takes from there but, needless to say, the Fosters' very eventful night is far from over.

Carell and Fey are obviously very skilled comedic performers but a large part of what makes Date Night so successful is that they can be funny on a small scale. Yes, there are moments when their characters break down into hysterics, but for the most part both Carell and Fey underplay and simply react to all the crazy people who are suddenly all around them. Phil and Claire are so funny because they don't know that they're being funny and the film itself works because they're believable as an ordinary couple in an extraordinary set of circumstances.

Generally speaking, comedies don't have to dig very deep in order to achieve their goals. They just have to succeed at making you laugh, they don't necessarily have to have characters who are believable and relatable - though the best ones, of course, do. I wouldn't rank Date Night amongst the very best comedies ever, but I do think that it's better than average and that in Claire and Phil it portrays a realistically happy but bored modern couple. What happens to them isn't very realistic, but the issues at play between their characters and they way that they relate to each other is. Carell and Fey make for a great team and hopefully they will work together again in the future (with Date Night's domestic gross coming in at just under $100 million, I suspect that they will).

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