Talk about going in there with no expectations: last night my wife suggested we go watch a movie, and although I generally keep to the big blockbusters, I didn’t really feel like How to train your dragon or Alice in Wonderland (not to mention baulking at the thought of having to pay the 3D tax). Jenny said that she’d heard good things about Date Night, starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey so we decided to watch that.
Now, the only thing – the one, single lonesome thing – that I’d seen, heard or read about date night was a big cardboard cutout at the cinema, showing Carell and Fey looking… slightly dishevelled. Therefore I assumed that it was going to be your usual rom-com fare. Boy was I wrong.
The first few scenes setting up the Foster family were as expected: the couple about to be bored to death by their marriage, their friends supposedly finding freedom by breaking up leading to a lot of introspective navel gazing, couple starts to do wild and wacky things to compensate, culminating in an epic battle of the sexes. Ha ha. Except that’s not what happened at all. Instead, at about 10 minutes in, the script took a sharp turn, stepped hard on the accelerator, and sent the couple on a wild ride (both literally and metaphorically) through the seedy parts of New York.
Date Night is still identifiably a product of Hollywood – glaring product placements, characters cut out from blatantly clichéd ethnic, socio-economic and cultural stereotypes – and yet it manages to hit all the right notes. Carrell and Fey were absolutely brilliant in their roles as Phil and Clara Foster, with just the right look and demeanour to pull off the “ordinary folk stuck in an extraordinary situation” schtick. Shawn Levy, the director, is the very model of restraint – a quality which is sadly becoming quite rare in this genre – pulling back on the throttle at just the right moment before a joke goes from hilarious to cringey. Overall, the movie couldn’t be further from the “slices of bread holding together a shit sandwich” that “I Watch Stuff” predicted it would be when the movie was first announced.
I also liked that Date Night was completely lacking in cynicism. The conservative in me rejoices that every relationship (bar the one that triggered the plot in the first place) has a happy resolution: people are generally portrayed as being worthy human beings, if maybe a bit quirky or eccentric; the Fosters work through their marriage troubles in a positive and constructive way, instead of being narky to each other and having to come to an emotional stalemate in order to get through the trials, only to have their differences and problems magically disappear by the end of the movie; and the bad guys get their comeuppance in ways that don’t involve moral compromise, wanton death and destruction, or wilful negligence.
Maybe it was just the novelty – for once – of not knowing, but I doubt that I could be this entertained by every movie for which I have zero expectation. If you’ve already seen Date Night, did you know anything about it beforehand, and if so what did you think?