Date Night

  • Title: Date Night
  • Director: Shawn Levy
  • Date: 2010
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Genre: Romance, Comedy, Action, Adventure
  • Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Jimmi Simpson
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, Extended Ed.

That’s marriage, right, sometimes you do stuff you don’t want to do.” — Phil Foster

“It wasn’t a crazy idea – it was just dinner in Manhattan, one night, one date where we’re not talking about the kids the entire time or what we have to do next week.” — Phil

“Everything you’re doing, I’m doing in heels!” — Claire

There is an old saying that “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” The opening of Date Night, shows us a 40-something married couple who are both living quiet, suburban lives of quiet desperation – he’s a tax accountant, she’s a realtor. They have two kids, a house in the New Jersey ‘burbs, and the clichéd white picket fence. Even their weekly “date night”, has become hackneyed and boring. When their best couple friends tell Mr. and Mrs. Foster (separately, no less) they are getting a separation out of sheer boredom, Mr. Phil Foster (Steve Carell) decides they need to do something different for the next date night.

So they head into Manhattan – and swipe a reservation at a swanky seafood restaurant. And chaos ensues. The couple is mistaken for another couple who are up to no good. That’s the basic set-up of the movie.

Date Night has everything – humor and character comedy. Carell is instantaneously likable (in fact, “Phil Foster” reminds me very much of Carell’s “Maxwell Smart” – except Max knew he was an agent; Foster really is just an accountant). A couple of McGuffins and mistaken identity drive the plot of the film, but what makes the film really work is having two normal people who are dropped into a ridiculous situation – finding excitement and a renewed relationship with each other. These characters feel real – yet at the same time, the movie is very, very funny. Carell delivers one-liners like nobody’s business, but Fey also manages to get in a few zingers. And, like the best of the Cary Grant screwball comedies – from tiny beginnings (taking a reservation from a no show so they could have a nice date) the situation just gets more and more intense and thus funnier and funnier. There’s danger in Date Night and humor – a rare but perfect combination.

The relationship between Claire and Phil works because it feels real. After meeting one of Claire’s former clients (Mark Walhberg), Phil is, admittedly jealous – he sees the guy as hot and built, so he’s sure his wife does too. So he points out to Claire that she sparked for him – why doesn’t she spark for him anymore? To which Claire goes on a rant about how exhausted she is – because she has to do so much, with taking care of the kids, working, cleaning the house, etc. To which Phil responds, and this is the important bit, that he could help – she should let him do something. “And yeah, you know what?  Maybe, occasionally, I might buy the toy made from Chinese lead or I might make a sandwich for Ollie that God forbid breaches the jelly perimeter. But if you just let me do something for you… I think that I would surprise you. I really do. I know I’d surprise you.”. Phil admits their couple friends are breaking up, Claire says that she knows. The conversation returns to sex fantasies – and Claire says, if anything, she fantasies about being alone, just leaving, going to an air-conditioned hotel room, closing the door and just sitting in the peace and quiet, sipping a diet Sprite. It’s a turning point in their relationship as the two begin to realize just what they need to do. But such quiet moments are rare – in this screwball comedy that just gets bigger and bigger, and funnier and funnier.

This film also has the funniest car chase scene I’ve seen since The Blues Brothers. It’s a brilliant car chase, it really is. The film is laugh-out-loud funny without making fun of the characters. At no point are Carell and Fey’s characters the butt of the jokes – the situation is funny because normal people are put into an outrageous situation. The occasional senses of danger work, but also have that 80s-TV feel of “no one is going to get seriously hurt, here, even the bad guys, so just have a good time”. Good comedy comes from putting realistic characters in funny situations, not making fun of characters to the point where you cringe watching it, and Date Night is a good comedy.

I highly recommend seeing Date Night. Despite the title, it’s not your traditional romantic comedy – more of a romantic action/adventure/comedy thing. The characters, especially Carell and the various people he and his wife run into in one wild night are also well-drawn. If you watch Psych on USA Network, you might remember “Mary – the profiler”  from “An Evening with Mr. Yang”, played by Jimmi Simpson, he’s in this. And, no, I’m not telling you who he plays! Oddly enough, because of the humor, action, and even a touch of romance – Date Night might be a great date movie, but definitely not in the traditional weepy chick flick sense. It’s a film virtually everyone can enjoy.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film: Dead Poets Society