By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
With a terrific premise and two of the funniest people in show business, Date Night should have been the year’s best comedy, hands down. On Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, Tina Fey has proven her comedic mettle, bringing wit and intelligence to her craft. Steve Carell, for his part, has made me laugh ‘til my sides ached in Get Smart, as well as the better seasons of The Office, and brought a surprising amount of warmth and heart to Dan in Real Life. Though both actors drift into vulgar humor from time to time, when given good material they truly shine.
Date Night, by all appearances, was to be a sure-fire laugh riot, combining as it did these two talents with the comedic potential inherent to the instantly-relatable challenge of keeping love alive in a marriage. Sadly, after a good start, Date Night succumbs to lazy, crass humor and a meandering plot. The film follows Fey and Carell’s characters (who are happily married-with-children but are stuck in the monotony of routine) on their weekly date night, where they are confused for another couple wanted by the mob.
The beginning of the film, exploring the day-to-day grind of this loving couple as they juggle kids, work, and marriage, provides some of the film’s most grounded and genuine humor. However, once the mafia storyline kicks in, the film attempts to find humor by contrasting the couple’s relatively wholesome family life with the seedy underworld of New York City…and fails.
While the film contains a few genuine laughs, most of the jokes fall flat or confuse crass with funny, tying the hands of the talented stars. It’s a shame, too, because Carell and Fey wring some genuine sweetness out of their characters, whenever the limited script allows them too. They have good chemistry as a screen couple. The few moments where we see that chemistry give the audience a glimpse of what might have been. I for one would love to see them take another crack at it.
This may have been a poor first date, but these two deserve another shot. With a good script that balances laughs and heart, like the Steve Martin-Diane Keaton version of Father of the Bride, Steve Carell and Tina Fey could make the perfect date movie, sweet (but not sappy) and full of laughs. As it is, this premise (a loving married couple, stuck in a rut, have an adventure that renews their passion and appreciation for each other) was done much better in The Incredibles. As much as it pains me to say it, this Date Night shouldn’t be seen on yours.
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