A film review by Craig J. Koban
YOU, ME, AND DUPREE
2006, PG-13, 108 mins.
Owen Wilson: Randy Dupree / Kate Hudson: Molly Peterson / Matt Dillon: Carl Peterson / Michael Douglas: Mr. Thompson / Seth Rogan: Neil
Directed by The Russo Brothers / Written by Mike LeSieur
Directed by The Russo Brothers / Written by Mike LeSieur
In terms of playing wiseass, sardonic, and disarmingly charismatic goofballs, Owen Wilson easily has the market cornered.
Although he has played relatively straight and serious roles in the past (many people forget his participation in ANACONDA, THE MINUS MAN, and BEHIND ENEMY LINES), Wilson’s true gift is his distinct knack for playing comic misfits that are inevitably likeable. Sure, he does not have a considerable amount of range (I can’t ever imagine seeing him in, say, a period film), but he definitely makes up for it in terms of his skill for forging affable doofuses. He talks a fast talk, but is so laid back and gentle with his outlook that it's difficult to not find him agreeable.
Wilson is such a winning screen presence not so much for what he says or what he does on screen, but rather for his overall tone. He does not engage in scene after scene of non-stop physical, slapstick gags (which he can do well), nor is he a vulgar and scatological actor that needs various four and twelve letter expletives to garner chuckles. No, he is affable and appealing for the way he conducts himself on camera. His comic timing is usually spot on and precise, but what really separates him from other funny actors is in his overall presence. With his wavy mane of blond, Californian surfer hair, those mischievous eyes and his giddy and sly smile, Wilson puts people in stitches by his undercranked vitality and energy alone. Sure, he’s a motor mouth that may not know when to shut up, by his enthusiasm and giddiness is kind of infectious.
His comic resume alone is noteworthy. He was in one of the funniest comedies of last year, THE WEDDING CRASHERS, which played up to his obvious strengths. His role of Ned Plimpton in 2004’s THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU was quietly hilarious. He made himself an overnight star with SHANGHAI NOON and SHANGHAI KNIGHTS, where his verbal wit and wordplay were an effective counterpoint to the physical comedy of co-star Jackie Chan. I especially liked him as the narcissistic male model opposite Ben Stiller in the underrated 2001 howlfest ZOOLANDER, where his penchant for cocky irreverence had no boundaries. In that film he played second billed to Stiller, but he often walked away with it’s most raucously funny lines, like, “I wasn't like every other kid, you know, who dreams about being an astronaut, I was always more interested in what bark was made out of on a tree.”
His newest comedy, YOU, ME AND DUPREE, highlights and embellishes Wilson’s capricious comic liveliness. In the film he plays a character that – in another lesser actor’s hands – would be considered such an unmitigated slacker and loser that finding anything to like about him would be increasingly difficult. His part of Dupree should command our scorn and contempt, not amusement. He is a nuisance in every sense of the word; a wild and rambunctious force of nature that can be damaging if one allows him to get too close. He is hapless beyond the conventional definition of the word. He has no girlfriend, no sincere ambitions in life, no prospects, and he does not even have a job (in one of the film’s funniest scenes, he turns down a job because the employer works his staff on Columbus Day). He’s the kind of social degenerate that likes to sleep in until noon, watch a lot of TV (HBO is his favourite), eat buffalo wings until he makes a mess of the toilet, and engages in intimate acts with women that could be aptly labeled as bizarre. He claims to have a job (“If one can call living a job, then I do that to it’s fullest everyday”), but he really has no future. Yes, Dupree is a real bum.
But, in Wilson’s hands, he’s such a good-natured, sweet, and oblivious man that it’s hard to get angry with him even when he is unwillingly destructive to both himself and those around him. This is part of the modest success that YOU, ME AND DUPREE has going for it. It is a small miracle when a film presents a character that really is bad news for everyone around him (and is lazy to the point of being inert) and instead makes him amiable and approachable. Make no mistake about it, Wilson is able to get some serious mileage of the dippy charm he exudes in Dupree and, for the most part, he is able to coast successful through the film. I guess that the main issue with this comedy is that not even Wilson’s dependable and persistent comic vigor can rescue YOU, ME AND DUPREE out of the realm of contrivance and witless formulas. The film is funny when Wilson is on screen, but its overall story feels like spar parts of other better comedies. This is a shame, because with Wilson's irresistible charisma throughout the film, it sure never rises above a level of a forgettable and disposable entertainment.
Even more shocking is the sheer amount of Oscar nominated actors working in the film. Newlyweds Molly (Oscar nominated Kate Hudson), and Carl (Oscar nominated Matt Dillon) have just recently married and are about to enjoy a wonderful honeymoon. She’s an elementary school teacher that comes from a rich family. Her father (played by – I am not kidding – two time Oscar winner Michael Douglas) has given Carl a very prestigious job at his global design firm. Yes, life appears to be good for the happy couple, that is until Carl discovers that his best man (and friend) Randy Dupree has not only lost his job, but also his house and even his car. Dupree is homeless and down on his luck and the good guy in Carl decides to help his buddy out. What are friends for?
Obviously forgetting the first tenant to a happy marriage (happy wife, happy life), Carl invites Dupree over to stay at his new home without consulting his better half. Molly begrudgingly agrees, only after Carl assures her that Dupree is a good guy that needs to get on his feet after some rough times. “He'll be gone in a few days,” Carl tells his wife, “or maybe a week....or more.” More eerily prophetic words have rarely been spoken in a film.
Predictably, Dupree does not get his life back in order quite so fast and decides to take advantage of the situation and freeloads off of Carl and Molly as much as possible. It takes a matter of about…oh…one day before Dupree turns into a qualified houseguest from hell. His laundry list of social causalities pile up with such a rapid pace. He sleeps in the nude on the couple’s new and beloved leather couch; he stinks up the bathroom something fierce after overeating (“I will never eat buffalo wings again”); he erases the couple's message on their answering machine and puts his own announcement on it; he “upgrades” their cable service to playback all of the premium channels; he interrupts the couple having sex so he can use their bedroom bathroom (after he sabotaged another bathroom in the home); he is caught masturbating to Carl’s secret porn collection; he invites over strippers for a guy’s night with all of his buddies; and he finally has lurid sex in the couple’s living room that utilizes a particular spreadable product that is normally used for sandwiches. Geez, you’d think he’d even go as far as setting the damn house on fire. Oh wait…he does that too.
Predictably (I use that term again), both Carl and Molly get so infuriated that they kick Dupree out of their house. The most puzzling thing about this whole arrangement is how utterly unnecessary it is. Clearly, the couple could have (a) very easily kicked Dupree out after a day considering his antics or (b) could have easily paid for a motel for him for a week or so considering the wealth that they have at their disposal. Of course, in films like these the two main characters of the wife and husband are more plot contrivances than real people (any real married couple would have sent Dupree packing instantly), but alas in a movie these people go out of their way to find reasons for Dupree to stay. Amazingly, even after Dupree has more than wore out his welcome (and nearly destroyed their home) the couple decides to let him back in after he has – yet again – fallen on bad times.
YOU, ME AND DUPREE was a much more winning and enjoyable comedy when it was called WHAT ABOUT BOB? Both films are strikingly similar. Both have likeable simpletons that manage to infiltrate a family and cause a lot of unintended chaos and havoc at many turns. Yet, in WHAT ABOUT BOB Bill Murray played a lovable and childlike character that was so jovial and sociable that most of the members of the family could not find a reason to tell him to take a hike (except for the father, played memorably by Richard Dreyfuss). In WHAT ABOUT BOB Murray’s persistent presence within the family turns the husband into a paranoid and obsessive neurotic. In DUPREE Wilson should have no reason whatsoever to be granted continued access to Carl and Molly’s home. Soon (just like in BOB), Dupree’s cozy and platonic closeness that he nurtures with Molly slowly drives Carl crazy. In an odd way, could you blame him?
Whereas DUPREE suffers from some real gaps in credibility and has an uncompromising narrative, the film does have some genuinely funny moments. I enjoyed nuggets of Michael Douglas (who is good at low key, underplayed comedy) playing the possessive dad who seems to dislike Carl an awful lot. His distrust in him manifests in many amusing scenes, as with one where he asks him to hyphenate his name instead of making his daughter to do so. He also makes some very peculiar requests of Carl, as in one incredibly hilarious moment where he hands Carl a brochure that says “Vasectomies and Me.” Dillon, who can be a strong comedic presence (he was brilliantly sleazy in 1998's THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY), plays it straighter here until he is taken to the brink by Dupree’s antics. Kate Hudson adequately facilitates the meager needs of her role as the wife. Co-star Seth Rogan (who was remarkably funny in THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) has many riotous bits as Carl and Dupree’s friend, who seems to perceive his marriage not as a loving and mutually democratic relationship, but as being institutionalized.
Perhaps what could have made the film more entertaining and fresh is if it took a darker vein. The film is awfully saccharine with most of the relationships and when the final third (which showcases Carl’s descent into suspicious madness) goes a bit more for the jugular for laughs, it’s a bit too late. Maybe if the film played more as a wicked black comedy where Dupree was a presence that would not go away even after repeated attempts by the couple to get rid of him then the film could have had more comic bite. Dupree is an absolute home wrecker, but he’s so nice and delightful that he’s never really a threatening presence. The film is almost as easy-going as Wilson’s acting, which allows for it to degenerate into something too sentimental and – ultimately – uninspired for it’s own good.
Wilson’s performance as a slacker-infused reject that has a heart of gold despite the carnage he unleashes keeps YOU, ME AND DUPREE staying afloat for its 108 minutes. When he’s around – parading around with that quintessential Wilsonian swagger and disarming charm – then the film emerges as satisfying and enjoyable. Yet, all of Wilson’s comic tenacity can’t keep YOU, ME AND DUPREE from being anything more than a watchable - but unremarkable and insubstantial - farce. The story has cannibalized elements from other past comedies that have worked – on their levels – infinitely better. Wilson plays a trickster and goofball sage with a man-child twinkle in his eyes better than any actor, but his winning persona can’t save the film from feeling as tired and recycled as a sitcom. The laughs are sporadic, the story and emotions dramatically false, and the tone too sugar-coated. YOU, ME AND DUPREE elicits some decent chuckles, but it is not the laugh riot it desperately yearns to be.