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Date Night (2010), starring US comedy heavy weights Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Steve Carell (The American Office), is the latest comic offering from Night at the Museum (2006) director Shawn Levy. Taking a break from the ‘family-fun’ franchise Levy takes the helm on this comedy of errors (or rather of mistaken identity) set in New York City.
Fey and Carell play middle-class husband and wife duo Claire and Phil Foster, whose romance has been lost to the demands of parenthood and the mundane realities of married life. At the beginning of the film, the couple have seemingly reached the point where they represent a perfectly functioning ‘team’; however, the question posed throughout the film is, at what cost? When romance has given way to efficiency and excitement to exhaustion, is the relationship you started out in still truly alive?
In an effort to reignite some of the excitement of their early relationship they hit the town in the hopes of soaking up some of the sparkle and glamour that Manhattan has to offer. However, when their restaurant of choice for the evening is full to bursting and a seemingly infinite wait for a table seems to be the final nail in the coffin of their romantic evening out, Phil (Carell) decides it’s time to take a risk. Flying bravely into the face of social convention and restaurant etiquette he does the unthinkable – claims someone else’s table (which is reserved for a pair called the Tripplehorns). However, what might usually pass as a harmless lapse in restaurant manners becomes a catalyst for further, extraordinary events.
I don’t often laugh out loud in the cinema but I have to admit that that Date Night had me rolling in my seat at points. Fey and Carell make the perfect comic duo as they manoeuvre themselves from one exchange to another. I’ve been a personal fan of Tina Fey since watching her impersonations of former Republican Vice-President Sarah Palin on US comedy show Saturday Night Live during the American presidential election, and she performs well in Date Night. Not only do Fey and Carell put on a good show but there are also fine turns in supporting roles including Mark Wahlberg as the ever-shirtless Holbrooke, and Mila Kunis and James Franco as the ‘real’ Tripplehorns in all their slovenly, argumentative, tattooed glory.
Similarly impressive is the film’s refreshing lack of sentimentality. Mainstream Hollywood comedies so often disappoint by descending (often mid-narrative) into a moralistic didactic on the ‘importance of family’ or the ‘bond between friends’. Levy’s Date Night does well to (mostly) resist this common trend and instead remains an enjoyable, genuinly funny semi-romantic comedy from start to finish.