this trip necessary? (l-r) Fey and Carell in Date Night.
Go Out and Have Some Fun
by Shawn Levy
If Michael Scott and Liz Lemon were to get together, it likely
would be very funny. As anybody who watches either The
Office or 30 Rock knows, both characters are geeky
losers, at least in terms of what we perceive to be cool factors.
Michael, the head honcho for a paper company in Scranton,
Pa., is prone to making verbal gaffes about his employees
that veer between the extremely insensitive to downright actionable.
Liz, while having garnered a level of success as the head
writer for a popular comedy show, regularly puts her foot
in etiquette doo-doo thanks to her inept social skills. And
they both make you laugh. So a fan is well within her rights
to expect great things from a movie like Date Night,
which pairs their portrayers, Steve Carell and Tina Fey.
And, as it turns out, a cynic is well within her rights to
expect, and then find, that such pairings often look better
on paper than they actually come off on screen. Such is the
case with Date Night, which is about a couple’s attempt
to put the zing back in their stale marriage. Phil (Carell)
and Claire (Fey) Foster seem genuinely fond of each other,
but their successful careers, their two kids, and their extraneous
commitments leave them opting out of having the babysitter
over in favor of take-out pizza and an early, sexless night.
When their best friends Brad (Mark Ruffalo) and Haley (Kristen
Wiig) reveal that they’re splitting up, a minor tremor occurs
in their own relationship. Have they become each other’s Excellent
Roommate? Determined to change things up, Phil takes Claire
to Manhattan (they live in New Jersey) to dine at the hot
new eatery named Claw. As anybody who’s seen the trailer knows,
they end up copping the reservation of a no-show couple, with
disastrous results (thugs with guns, car chases).
Much of Date Night is very funny, and these moments
are usually quieter ones in which Phil and Claire exchange
unintentionally rueful observations while the camera allows
us to see the islands that they’ve unintentionally become.
While other movies use the ploy of having unexpected disaster
translate into marriage therapy (Did You Hear about the
Morgans?), Date Night gives us a husband who, from
the start, means well to the point of joining Claire and her
obnoxious girlfriends for their post-post-feminist book club.
(He actually reads the selections!). This apparently serves
the purpose of making Claire look like an ungrateful bitch
when, responding to her vent about having only so much energy
to get everything done that all working mothers have to get
done, he says, “Maybe if you let me help you . . . ” I doubt
the audience heard my “grrr,” so enraptured were they with
what a stand-up guy Steve Carell (not Phil, mind you) is.
This exchange occurs in one of the movie’s dimmer moments,
when, having begun a ridiculous car chase, the Fosters take
a moment to bare their souls, to the accompaniment of a sappy
A running gag involving a shirtless and very buff Mark Wahlberg
as Claire’s former real-estate client, and another about that
stolen dinner reservation, are consistently funny. The appearance
of James Franco and Mila Kunis (as the two whacked-out lovers
who owned said reservation) is wacky and trippy and almost
takes the movie off the narrative track, with Fey and Carell
simply standing by. It’s too bad that the Fosters as characters
couldn’t similarly have been allowed a chance to run amok
in Manhattan, maybe experience a little After Hours
shock, without having to resort to loud crashes and lurking
bad men all to remind them that, yes, the thrill is still
there. As adult comedies go, Date Night is a notch
above things like Knocked Up and its ilk, which threatens
to be about all we of a certain age get to watch if we’re
not into 3D or Vin Diesel. But it could have been so much