Liz Lemon gets a couple of kids and a geekily darling husband in Steve Carell in Date Night, the answer to the question “Why don’t they ever write romantic comedies about married people?”
Which is not to say that Date Night a decently made film or a funny film, just that it highlights all the pitfalls this kind of story telling can run in to.
Claire (Tina Fey) and Phil (Carell) Foster are the reality of the single-person’s dream of getting married and having kids: in love but harried by responsibilities. Claire’s a real estate agent (selling homes “20 minutes from the city” in their New Jersey suburb an hour outside of Manhattan) and Phil works at an office and feigns interest in his wife’s book club. When a couple they’re friends with announces that they’ve broken up (they went from being in love to “excellent roommates,” the husband tells Phil), Claire and Phil wonder if their own relationship, including their regular predictable “date night” at a local pub, has also become stale. So, for this week’s date night, Claire dresses up fancy and Phil decides that they should go in to the city to a chi-chi new restaurant.
At the restaurant, a rude host tells these ’burb bumpkins to go wait — forever —at the bar, so Phil decides to steal the reservation of the no-show Tripplehorns. But it turns out there was a reason the Tripplehorns didn’t show: they’re being chased by thugs who think they have a thumb drive containing blackmail material on some powerful and dangerous people.
Unless there’s infidelity or secret identities involved, you’ll almost never get an action comedy featuring married people. Here, our heroic duo are neither cheating nor secretly spies. They are regular people, not accustomed to dealing with criminals but refreshingly possessing of some basic intelligence so they can work their way through the strange problem in front of them while also working at some very standard marriage stuff (romance has dimmed, nobody feels appreciated, etc.). It is not exactly high comedy to listen to people talk about how housework gets in the way of sex, but Date Night manages these parts without too much ickiness. And then it gets us back to geek goofiness with Carell and Fey, likeable grown-ups who seem more like people I’ve actually met than the freakishly together or freakishly troubled people who usually fill comedies about the suburbs. That this movie’s gimmick and its very NBC-ish comedy work at all is due almost entirely to the likeability of Carell and Fey. As with their NBC shows, you’re not always in the presence of genius but you frequently find something to chuckle at.
Date Night isn’t a great movie — as with Fey’s Baby Mama you get the feeling a better movie was possible but never realized. And it’s not a particularly good date movie — who wants to watch some variation of the conversation you had on the way to the theater when you’re at the movies? But it is a sweet attempt at putting grown-up people in situations both funny and occasionally romantic. As with the concept of date night itself, the movie gets a B for effort, a C for execution, so, with a shirtless Mark Wahlberg tipping the scales a bit, how about a B-?
Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference. Directed by Shawn Levy and written by Josh Klausner, Date Night is an hour and 28 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.