Fool’s Paradise


Years ago, when I interviewed for a job at a studio, I got a peek behind the curtain at what kind of a place held my imagination since I was a child. In a way, that visit was magical—getting a firsthand look at the history of the place, the seemingly endless opportunities I thought possible, and the liveliness of busy hallways and alleyways of moving people, props, and costumes. And then, sitting in a fancy boardroom with my interviewer, the spell broke. She launched into a 20-minute lecture about the importance of getting people’s coffee orders right, which could determine the fate of my career. After all the excitement, that’s really what this job boiled down to: remembering who got which latte and how quickly you could deliver it into their hand. 

Unfortunately, my one-day pass for a coffee interview was more enjoyable than writer/director Charlie Day’s toothless Hollywood satire, “Fool’s Paradise.” Poking fun at the industry’s quirks, like the importance of getting coffee for more powerful people, the mercurial nature of star power, and the strange characters you meet along the way, is a fine premise—it gave us many seasons of “BoJack Horseman.” Even the recent disillusioned love letter to Tinseltown, “Babylon,” had something to explore last year. But Day seems to have nothing new or insightful to add beyond pointing out some heightened caricatures of who you meet in Hollywood. On his way to making his satire, Day forgot to add jokes, and few comedies can redeem themselves from that sin. 

In “Fool’s Paradise,” Day plays a man with no family and no past who is dumped by doctors in downtown Los Angeles at what turns out to be the right time. He catches the eye of a desperate producer (Ray Liotta, in one of his final roles), and although he does not speak and acts like a lost child confused by the world around him, he is renamed Latte Pronto and ascends in the industry with a fast-talking, energy drink-addicted publicist (Ken Jeong) by his side. Along the way, he will meet a high-maintenance movie star wife, Christiana Dior (Kate Beckinsale), a freewheeling bad boy actor named Chad (Adrien Brody), a dudebro director (Jason Sudeikis), an excited special effects tech (Jason Bateman), a disloyal agent (Edie Falco), and a former action star who’s fallen on hard times (Common) among many others. 

Written and directed by Day, “Fool’s Paradise” is a cameo cavalcade of stars, and that’s the kindest thing I can say about it. Day goes all-in on making almost every character other than himself grotesquely annoying. For his part, Day adopts a Chaplinesque persona dressed as an L.A. jerk who looks like he’ll claim to have an in at Magic Castle but never takes you. But Day profoundly misunderstands the enduring appeal of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character or even his Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd counterparts. The world happens around them, and they react. At some point in their movies, they jump into action, laying the groundwork for physical comedians for generations to come. Things happen to Latte because of his lack of action, and the usual reaction is some puzzled looks and arched eyebrows. I’m generalizing here, but each of the three prominent silent comedians also had much to say about the human condition (Chaplin), how technology was changing the world around them (Keaton), and the new problems facing the modern man (Lloyd). I could not find a thought beyond “Isn’t Hollywood a funny place” in Day’s film, which also happens to be the same number of the movie’s punchlines.

Hollywood will always be ripe for skewering. It employs too many comedians and takes itself too seriously as a business not to be. Because this topic is so close to home, it means many others have had a few laughs at the industry’s expense already, including Woody Allen mocking their (still growing) number of award shows in “Annie Hall” or even how the Marion Davies comedy “Show People” had fun with the odds characters you meet in entertainment in the 1920s. But “Fool’s Paradise” occupies some mirthless middle ground between “Show People” and the dark Hollywood satire “The Day of the Locust,” and it doesn’t have anything to show for it. Overblown caricatures and stale jokes about “don’t you know who I am?!” and going to see his wife’s shaman are as empty as a finished cup of coffee, and unfortunately, this movie has nothing else to offer for a refill.

In theaters today.

Previous Story

Netflix’s Mulligan Tries to Find Comedy in Post Apocalyptic Cartoon

Next Story

The Movie AIR Celebrates Michael Jordan’s Mother