Monday, April 19, 2010

The Dinner Game / Le dîner de cons (1998)

A group of elite French businessmen host a weekly dinner where each of them must bring "an idiot", for the amusement of the group. Pierre Brochant's "idiot scout" finds him a premium idiot on the train, Finance Ministry employee and budding match-stick landmark replica builder François Pignon. On the day of the dinner, Brochant severely busts his back on the golf course and has to cancel on the dinner. His "idiot" Pignon is already on his way over. Hilarity ensues as Pignon manages to almost accidentally destry Brochant's whole life through a series of blundered telephone calls and cases of mistaken identity.

I didn't know this when I watched it, but the director of the film, Francis Veber, had actually originally written Le dîner de cons as a theatrical play. 95% of the film is set in Pierre's apartment, and the film moves along at a cracking pace by virtue of Pierre and François' often ridiculous dialogue.

Apart from a fleeting 87 minutes of entertainment, I didn't find much to contemplate on. What was the meaning here? That an idiot is not always an idiot? In my books, if someone can build realistic mini replica's of famous landmarks, then how can he really be an idiot? I couldn't do that. I think the essential quality of Pignon that had him defined as an "idiot" was not stupidity in itself, but a kind of lack of self-awareness whereby Pignon could not see himself as others did. Here's the formula for this kind of idiot:

1. A quirky/strange and/or obsessive hobby that sits on the border of normal and insane.
2. An innocent and earnest enthusiasm,
3. Total lack of awareness of how others see him.

In order to demonstrate this principle, let me use the example of Chocolate Rain by Tay Zonday. If you haven't seen Chocolate Rain yet, just type it into youtube and you'll see.

Why is Chocolate Rain hilarious? Well, firstly, the song really sits on the border of normal and crazy. What do I mean by this? Well, there are PLENTY of guys doing songs in such a way on youtube. That's pretty normal. BUT, why is his voice SOOO low? And the lyrics of this song? "chocolate rain"? It's not quite right is it? Secondly, Zonday seems totally earnest throughout his performance, and the interviews I've seen with him. What do I mean by earnest? Well, no irony, no intended humour. He's not trying to be cool, he truly is singing a song from the heart. Just like Pignon builds his match-stick replicas with completely and non-self-conscious, innocent enthusiasm. Lastly, it doesn't seem like Zonday can really appreciate why his video has gone viral,... because, I don't think Chocolate Rain is funny or strange to him. To him, it's an honest self expression.

I think the humour in this type of video/situation, is that Zonday is not aware of why his song is funny, which makes the song even funnier. There is a gap between the self-perception and the audience perception that really creates the humour. I have seen a lot of viral videos where this really seems to be the case. Ie, the recent barking dog man (which you will easily find on youtube). He wasn't trying to be the star of a viral video, he wasn't trying to be funny, but man, WTF. I think this is why engineered viral videos so often fail, because you can't manufacture that kind of innocent/earnest weirdo who sits on the border of weird and normal to create a song/performance that is sincere and heartfelt to the weirdo, but hilarious to everyone else. Another big example of this phenomenon is Tommy Wiseau in the 2003 film, The Room. Think about it.