We love laughing at rich people and their bullshit. Audiences relished that pleasure a lot last year with films like Triangle of Sadness, The Menu, and Glass Onion. These films produced genuine laughs thanks to fantastic comedic scripts that ridiculed the ways rich people behave. The same can’t be said for Charlie Day’s directorial debut, Fool’s Paradise. It’s a bland satire whose poorly conceived and executed jokes at Hollywood’s expense seem only funny to the cast, not the audience.
The film follows a down-on-his-luck publicist with an energy drink addiction, Lenny (Ken Jeong), whose on the hunt for a real somebody in Tinseltown to get him the fame and fortune he’s been looking for. He eventually finds that in a silent Charlie Chaplin type. Literally a man of no words as he lost his ability to speak, Lenny calls the actor-to-be Latte Pronto (Charlie Day) (because that’s supposed to be funny, I guess). Initially discovered by the on-the-go cranky Producer (Ray Liotta) to replace the egotistical method acting star of his Billy the Kid movie, Latte quickly gets his taste of film production chaos at its finest. He acts alongside a self-absorbed leading lady, Christiana Dior (Kate Beckinsale), and a brooding drunken leading man, Chad Luxt (Adrien Brody). Encouraged to do nothing on screen, like The Producer says most actors do, Latte ends up being an overnight success. Rising up to the top of the Hollywood hills, he quickly gets his next role, thanks to his new agent (Edie Falco), in a comic book movie with a big blockbuster director (Jason Sudeikis almost unrecognizable with aviators and wispy hair). But how quickly it is for some to reach the highest peak of fame and fortune, can just as quickly result in a life-altering landslide.
Borrowing from the style of older satires like Airplane, it’s difficult to understand how this went so wrong. Everything about Hollywood is one big joke, we see it every day in the headlines, and in the press notes for Fool’s Paradise, Day acknowledges that “everyone knows people in Hollywood are full of B.S.,” and that audiences “love to laugh at them.” But like the many philistines in Hollywood with no real understanding or appreciation for the art, the film has no understanding of why we think celebrity behavior is on another planet in its ridiculousness. The film doesn’t give us many reasons to laugh. In fact, the only laugh the film got out of me was thanks to the shamanic chant Jillian Bell sings in her tragically short cameo as the Shaman. Day does bring some charm to the film in his Chaplin-esque performance. Carrying a constant whimsy, it’s fairly humorous watching him do his thing, with the energy of a golden retriever. But his act, relying mainly on emotive eye-work, never produces the same level of physical comedy of a Chaplin or Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd that’s necessary to really impress.
The cast is stacked high. Along with the aforementioned, there’s Jason Bateman as the SPFX Tech; Common as a homeless ex-box office megastar still playing out his most famous role; John Malkovich as a power-hungry mogul; Jimmi Simpson as a talk show host with a Jimmy Fallon fake laugh. Everyone gives a committed performance to roles full of Hollywood stereotypes that do manage to entertain. But even with such a talented group and an interesting premise, it’s incredibly frustrating that the film is not only unfunny but a slog to get through. This is because, according to press notes, Day decided in final reshoots to make Lenny the heart and soul of the film and not Latte. For a film that’s primarily a classic tale of losing sight of what’s important (in this case, meaningful relationships), this does make sense, but it ultimately takes away from Latte’s story. He’s lost on a journey to finding himself and we learn nothing about him, not even why he has no voice. He’s simply a puppet with strings to be pulled.
Watching Fool’s Paradise is like being invited to a party where the one person you know knows everyone else. As they share jokes and reminisce, you awkwardly stand in the corner swirling your drink around in the bottom of a glass waiting for the appropriate time to go home. As other critics have said, the film feels like one big inside joke that only the cast and crew are in on. But like chasing fool’s gold, it’s not worth trying to grasp it.