Date Night is a film that tries to be a lot of things: A comedy, an action movie, a madcap family-friendly adventure, a "perfect date night movie," and a feel-good star vehicle for two of network television's most familiar faces. Usually when a movie tries to be too many things, it fails miserably. Date Night, however, manages to succeed in most areas, thanks mostly to the charisma and chemistry of its two lead stars.
In the film, directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum), Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Steve Carell (The Office) play Claire and Phil Foster, a thoroughly normal, yuppie-ish couple from New Jersey with two young kids, two solid careers, and a weekly "date night" at a local restaurant. Their by-the-book marriage isn't on the ropes, but it's not exactly brimming with passion either.
In order to inject some much-needed romance into their ho-hum marriage, Phil decides to take Claire out for a special date night-on-the-town in Manhattan. They go to the hot new restaurant, "Claw" (a highbrow seafood restaurant that is exactly as it sounds), but cannot get a table without a reservation. When the hostess calls out a no-show couple's name, Phil raises his hand and claims that he and Claire are the "Tripplehorns," thus securing a table for dinner. Trouble is, the real Tripplehorns are actually a criminal couple being hunted by the mob, which spells danger for the imposter Fosters, in the form of guns, car chases, and seedy strip club encounters with dangerous mobsters. What was supposed to be a romantic night away from their hectic home life turns into a "this is not who we are!" nightmare of mistaken identity for the Fosters, but in the end their criminal adventure proves to be exactly what the relationship doctor ordered.
Date Night is fun and refreshing, even if it is a little conventional. What sets it apart from the other "crazy things happen to normal people one night" comedies is the skill with which Fey and Carell manage to display all sorts of comedy while also maintaining their dignity. They are adults, and while capable of hilarious physical comedy and shifty-eyed antics (most amusingly when Fey has to have a conversation with a shirtless Mark Wahlberg), they also maintain a sense of propriety that makes them believable as normal suburban parents. There are some things they won't do, even for a laugh—even to get out of a sticky situation in the criminal underworld. In this way, Date Night bears a closer resemblance to Adventures in Babysitting than it does to the very R-rated The Hangover, though both of these movies seem to have influenced the conception of Night.
The episodes and antics of Date Night come and go quickly, and include some that are funny (the initial restaurant scene is hilarious, as are cameos by Wahlberg and James Franco) while others are not so much (an extended car chase scene with a screaming cab driver is more shrill and annoying than funny). But the film doesn't need to be funny every second, because it also has a strong relationship component that keeps it focused. It's a film about the Fosters' relationship above all, and it's enjoyable to watch the two of them play off of each other in a way that feels totally natural. We need more normal married couples in movies, and Fey and Carell know this. Rather than resorting to cheap laughs, gross-out humor or harsh belittling of one another, they instead mine laughs out of the idiosyncrasies of married love (such as the notorious "he's in the mood but she isn't / vice versa" problem). Not once in the film do either of the Fosters lose their love for or trust of one another. But they do grow in both.
Though it is made clear in the film that dishonesty—even little white lies like stealing some other couple's reservation—has consequences, Date Night isn't heavy-handed in its moral themes. Rather, it takes it for granted (rightly) that the struggles of the Fosters' marriage are pretty much universal. Any couple with kids (even any couple without kids) will be able to relate to the difficulties of wanting to maintain passion in a marriage that is bogged down by routine and everyday stress. Anyone who has ever felt bored or less-than-satisfied in a relationship will learn something from Date Night: that they aren't alone, and that it's not the end of the world.
Date Night isn't primarily a "help your marriage" guidebook, however. It's mostly just good, old-fashioned entertainment. Fey and Carell are as good a tag-team comedy duo as Lucy and Desi, or Ross and Rachel, and maybe even Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn—charismatic comedians in their own right who have amazing chemistry together. They are highly believable as a married couple and easy to root for. The whole movie is easy to root for, actually. It's nothing revolutionary, but Date Night is a good, feel-good flick for, well, a "date night" away from the kids.Discussion starters
- What is the biggest problem in the Fosters' marriage at the outset of the film?
- What do the Fosters learn about each other as the film goes along?
- What does the film say about "boring/normal" married life? Is it necessarily a bad thing?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Date Night is rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference. Though the film is free of much of the ubiquitous filth of most contemporary comedies, it does have some objectionable material that's inappropriate for children. There is language throughout the film, and quite a few sexual innuendos (though no actual sex or nudity). One scene in a strip club finds Fey's character dressed as a stripper, performing suggestive dances along with Carell. There are also a few drug references, and a few scenes of mild violence.
Photos © Twentieth Century Fox.
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