Should I Watch..? 'Date Night'
What's the big deal?
Date Night is a romantic comedy film released in 2010 and was directed and co-produced by Shawn Levy. The film depicts a middle-aged married couple going on a date night and finding themselves the victims of mistaken identity. The film stars Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, James Franco and Mila Kunis. Despite a lukewarm response from critics, the film still went on to earn more than $152 million worldwide. The film doesn't quite live up to its potential but finds success in portraying the stifling slump of a long-term relationship, expertly performed by its two seasoned comic veterans.
What's it about?
Phil and Claire Foster live a comfortable but dull life in New Jersey with their two children, Ollie and Charlotte. Phil, a taxy lawyer and estate agent Claire are stuck in a domestic routine - their only release and the highlight of their week are their regular date nights. Shocked after their mutual friends Brad and Haley split up after a number of years, they agree to put renewed effort into their relationship and to that end, Phil decides to take Claire somewhere new - a trendy seafood restaurant in Manhattan called Claw. However, he is unable to secure a reservation.
While enjoying a drink at the restaurant, the maître d' is unable to find a couple named Tripplehorn for their table. Impulsively and going against Claire's reluctance, Phil claims the table for himself and Claire. But while the two of them are enjoying their meal, two detectives looking for the real Tripplehorns arrive and a long night of mistaken identity begins...
Taraji P. Henson
DA Frank Crenshaw
Tom "Taste" Felton
Release Date (UK)
21st April, 2010
Comedy, Crime, Romance
What's to like?
I will admit, right here in this section where I normally praise the good bits, that Date Night will leave younger viewers bored and non-plussed. The film's real strengths are its seasoned comic veterans helming the project. Carell and Fey know how to squeeze every bit of comedy they can out of any given situation and both of them are on top form here. Their performances underline the tragic rut in which their characters find themselves - having enjoyed and long forgotten the intensity of a relationship's early days, they suddenly find themselves realising that they have taken each other for granted for too long. Older or more mature viewers will fully understand this danger and sympathise with these characters, which helps with the laughs.
The film isn't a laugh-a-minute roller-coaster but there is enough to suggest some good ideas lurking in the background. I especially enjoyed the character played by Wahlberg, an ultra-macho security expert who never wears a shirt - and frankly, if I had a body like his then neither would I! The film teases us with comic potential such as Wahlberg and the bickering criminal couple played by Kunis and Franco but it never really catches fire, instead becoming a fairly bog-standard action comedy with this everyday couple caught in the middle.
- Even though Wahlberg spends the entire movie shirtless, he still had a wardrobe assistant according to the end credits (Lorraine Crossman). His lack of attire proved a problem during shooting as he has a prominent tattoo of Bob Marley on his right shoulder so he was filmed at angles when the tattoo wasn't visible.
- The erotic dance between Carell and Fey was improvised but in order to make it feel even more awkward, director Levy yelled obscure phrases at them from behind the camera.
- The gentlemen's club where the Fosters meet DA Crenshaw was called the Peppermint Hippo, an obvious reference to the real-life franchise of gentlemen's clubs Spearmint Rhino. At least, that's what I've been told!
What's not to like?
The film has a remarkably brief running time despite the film's convoluted plot and things seem to get wrapped up a bit too neatly for my liking. And for all the hard work Carell and Fey put into the picture, Date Night never quite bursts into life the way you hope it might. It rumbles along in a pleasant enough fashion but there is nothing you haven't seen before and worse, nothing you're likely to remember afterwards. Hard to say why - I personally think the script needed a bit more tightening and the direction needed a bit more imagination - but it's hard to escape the feeling that this is a wasted opportunity.
Aside from the lead two, the supporting cast seems to be composed of celebrities poking fun at their own image (Wahlberg's role especially) or actors not bringing their A-game to the picture. Henson, an actress I normally enjoying watching, felt out-of-place and didn't really captivate me the way she normally does. The same can be said for Fichtner and an uncredited Ray Liotta, who fall into the sort of roles they've played countless times before. It doesn't do anything wrong as such but the film feels out-of-breath by the end of the first act and subsequently, everything that happens after the initial confusion at the restaurant feels goofy and too fantastical to believe. What happened to the all-too-recognisable couple at the start of the film, trying to reignite their spark? I wanted to see more of them, not so much the shenanigans that came afterwards.
Should I watch it?
Date Night is a pleasant enough film, a slightly off-kilter rom-com which is sullied by the needless introduction of action-comedy elements. It won't change the world and it certainly didn't do much for the careers of Carell or Fey, despite their stellar performances. It just never gets out of second gear, trundling along without raising much in the way of thrills or laughs once the initial set-up is replaced by a middle-aged couple caught up in criminal misdemeanours. It's alright but it could and perhaps should have been better.
Great For: middle-aged couples, date nights, anyone looking for a comedy that isn't too low-brow
Not So Great For: the under 30s, sky-high expectations, traditional rom-coms
What else should I watch?
Shawn Levy might not be a household name here in the UK but he has developed a reputation for producing a directing a number of financially successful comedies including the Night At The Museum trilogy and the disastrous Pink Panther reboot with Steve Martin. What does appear to link them is a fairly muted response from critics - other films like Real Steel, Just Married and The Internship failed to excite critics but still performed OK at the box office. So long as studios need a quick financial boost, his name seems to be at the top of the list.
The art of the romantic comedy seems to be a dying one these days. Too many films seemingly focus on high school students desperately trying to rid themselves of their virginity in whatever way possible, as though it might kill them if they reach the age of 18 with it still intact. These films will probably have at least one bodily-fluid sequence and rely on toilet and gross-out humour. I'm too old to enjoy these types of films - American Pie, Superbad, flicks like that - so I'd rather settle down to watch A-listers make googly eyes at each other while an earnest supporting cast distracts us with good-hearted comedy. Give me films like Notting Hill or Four Weddings And A Funeral any day.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox