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Tim (Paul Rudd) is a member of a highly competitive corporation, filled with sadistic bosses, cutthroat coworkers, and devoted secretaries. He works day in, day out, to make enough money to support his girlfriend, Julie, who he loves dearly and desperately wants to make his fiancée. One day, a fellow coworker is fired, immediately, people begin to discuss who will take his job. Later, in a presentation, Tim makes a daring move to get respect from his bosses, much to the horror of his coworkers. Surprisingly, it goes incredibly well. They tell him that he's in line for a promotion, if he attends a "dinner for winners", an annual event to find the biggest idiot for comedic purposes.
Meanwhile, Julie has landed a curator deal with an eccentric artist named Kieran. He takes that opportunity to propose, hoping she'll say yes. She turns him down, as it turns out she had done multiple times before. The conversation turns to Tim's potential promotion and, in extension, to the actual "dinner for idiots." She is not very happy with the idea of the dinner, however. He agrees not to do it. Later on, he meets Barry (Steve Carell), a taxidermist who loves to make mice dioramas. Tim has found his idiot. Despite agreeing not to do it, Tim decides to take Barry with him to the dinner.
Before that, though, he takes him to his apartment, where Barry notices Darla IMing him. Assuming that Tim is involved with Darla in some way, Barry makes some flirtacious replies in an attempt to be helpful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Darla is really his Psycho Ex-Girlfriend doubling as a Stalker with a Crush that Tim has been trying to get rid of for quite a while. Meanwhile, Kieran is becoming... fond of Julie as Tim is trying to hide the fact that he's not only going against his agreement with her to not go to the dinner, he's taking Barry as his idiot as well. Along the way, numerous mishaps happen. It also features a blatant ripoff of Aldous Snow.
Dinner for Schmucks provides examples of the following tropes:
- Adorkable: Barry
- And Now You Must Propose to Me: In an attempt to be helpful, Barry not only brings Darla to Tim's lunch date with the Muellers as "Julie," he also brings the engagement ring Tim bought for Julie. Tim ends up being put on the spot to propose to Darla as Julie.
- Animal Motif: A lot of Kieran's art has this.
- Annoying Laugh: Therman.
- Betty and Veronica: With Julie as Archie, Tim as Betty (been her boyfriend for a long time, normal, wants to marry her), and Kieran as Veronica (just met her, eccentric, mainly interested in her as a paramour).
- Blind Weaponmaster: One of the schmucks fancies himself a blind Master Swordsman. He isn't.
- British Accent: Barry tries this when making a phone call.
- Captain Obvious: Barry.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Barry again.
- Crack! Oh, My Back!
- Fee Fi Faux Pas
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: "That's my wife's favorite finger!"
- Gratuitous German: Obviously, the Swiss version of "dinner for idiots" is "dinner for unterschlagen".
- Honor Before Reason
- I Call Him "Mister Happy": Therman, although no one was supposed to know about it.
- I Can Explain
- Innocent Inaccurate: When Darla attempts to seduce Barry, Barry has Entendre Failure. Also, it turns out that his ex-wife divorced him because he not only couldn't find her clitoris, he didn't even know what a clitoris was.
- Large Ham: Therman.
- The Last DJ
- Literal Minded: Barry, multiple times.
- Loony Friends Improve Your Personality: Tim after hanging around with Barry.
- Mad Artist: Kieran Vollard borders on this.
- Master Swordsman: Parodied with the blind fencer.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer makes it look like the dinner takes up most of the film, when it actually happens within the last half-hour.
- Not What It Looks Like
- Pair the Spares: Darla and Barry end up together in the end.
- Prank Dinner: Type 3.
- The Precious Precious Car: Being a rich guy, Tim can afford one of these, but he doesn't act as if it's anything too special.
- Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Darla, who doubles as this and a Stalker with a Crush.
- Right Behind Me
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Tim exposes the real theme of the dinners, even though it means he'll lose his lucrative job.
- Trailers Always Spoil: In the movie, the appearance of Therman as the final "winner" is clearly set up as a surprise for the audience. Too bad every single trailer for the movie featured several clips of him and Barry mind dueling around the guests!
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Kieran's art.
- Unusual Euphemism: Tim and Jullie "curate" on their honeymoon. Several times.
- Welcome to My World: Parodied. The blind swordsman tries to black out the room but only turns off a lamp. Played straight later, when Jullie experiences the weirdness that circles Barry.
- Yandere: Darla.
- ↑ "dinner for embezzle", but whatever.