Monday, April 12, 2010

Date Night (2010)

Date Night (2010) is a cookie cutter comedy, a flick that appeals to the familial values of Mom and Dad while offering just enough edge to make them feel a little bit naughty. It’s clichéd, it’s predictable, it’s somewhat lazy and it feels surprisingly long for a movie that runs only 88 minutes. And you know what? I don’t care about any of those things, ‘cause Steve Carell is funny, Tina Fey is witty and their movie is appropriately perfect for a dinner & movie night out with your date.

Directed by family-friendly Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Cheaper by the Dozen), Date Night weds Carell and Fey in a match made in middle-aged comedy heaven. As the driving forces behind their respected NBC comedy gems, The Office and 30 Rock, they charm us with awkward comedy on a weekly basis, while taking time out for individual movie adventures that range from brilliant (40 Year Old Virgin) to good (Mean Girls and Dan in Real Life) to blah (Baby Momma). Date Night brings them together on the big screen for the first time, and their union is as natural and fun as you thought it would be...

The plot is pretty simple - as suburban parents dulled by the humdrum of their family routine, Phil and Claire Foster are in desperate need of spontaneity. Their relationship is suffocating from a lack of energy and drive, and friends who are suffering the same pitfalls are heading towards divorce. So when date night rolls around, Phil and Claire seize the opportunity to live a little. They head to that fancy restaurant in the big city, make a few bold choices – and soon find themselves in a dangerous adventure of life or death.

Or, you know, as much danger and death as a lighthearted PG-13 comedy will allow. Ironically, Date Night isn’t fueled by the adventure of crime and mystery in NYC as much as the comfort and familiarity of the Fosters, their problems and their jokes.

Writer Josh Klausner (who’s worked on the Shrek films) wisely chooses to make Phil and Claire relatable and likeable as opposed to a couple on the brink of destruction. Ordinarily, writers of romantic comedies and the like choose to work with broken couples that are nasty and horrible to each other, using the obstacles in the story as a means to bring them together at the end. Klausner’s script works with the same formula, but it’s refreshing to get a couple that isn’t broken as much as tired or worn out, and one that doesn’t use this exhaustion as an excuse to attack each other.

It makes for a low-stakes but breezy film, and allows us to simply sit back and enjoy the laughs. And there are quite a few laughs. While this may be as straight and maintained as we’ll ever see Carell, he feels closer to Fey’s level of observational whit and charm, and thus they play well off each other. Date Night is a comedy that benefits from a full theater, and probably won’t play as well in isolation on the small screen. But it’s got a slew of memorable scenes and quotes, and enough cameos to fill an entire season of 30 Rock.

It isn’t the funniest comedy, the most creative or the most provocative. But Date Night fills a comfort zone niche, like a home-cooked meal or a cozy movie on a rainy day. It isn’t challenging, and it’s fine with that, choosing a soft, clean Americana as its comedic playground. At its best, Date Night is almost Hughesian in that way, and in a world where John Hughes no longer exists, it’s nice to get a dose of his sensibilities in a new and enjoyable place.

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