Comedy scoring. It’s something that can make me smile or cringe. It’s such a hard thing to achieve, but luckily Theodore Shapiro does it superbly. Dinner For Schmucks is a rare heartfelt comedic score with a soul and it truly will captivate you. Since Shapiro is from Washington, DC I feel like he’s my local composer. I too am from the DC area so in a way I feel like I’m seeing my home team play when he’s up to score.
It’s not fair to call Shapiro a comedy composer, but that’s where his specialty lies. If you’ve heard his score to Tropic Thunder then you’re aware of his awesome Hans Zimmer impersonation and how capable he is of action scoring (even though it was done for comedic effect). If you’ve seen Marley & Me you know he’s capable of making you cry as well.
What’s different about Shapiro? Well, this score embodies what makes him stand out. This score is so uniquely heartfelt and emotional yet still manages to be a comedy score. Imagine taking all the best quirky elements of John Powell’s score to Rat Race, making the offbeat element a little less aggressive and then adding a huge “human” element to it. Don’t get me wrong, there is a good deal of “quirk” to this score yet it’s never over the top, and it’s done with such class that it never feels beneath you.
The thing is that good comedy comes from the script. If the the script is well written and the actors successfully execute the script with their timing then comedy is already born. Now, a composer’s job differs a bit pending whether or not the film is satire, character based or slapstick. Yes, you can have a combination of all three of those, but Dinner For Schmucks is definitely a character based comedy.
So what this score effectively does is bring the characters to life. The score doesn’t try to be funny. The score doesn’t have any punchlines. You won’t laugh at this score. The score has a “waltzy” structure to it and you feel the characters within it. “Mouse World” is a fantastic track utilizing some vocals. Tracks like “Barry’s Photos” and “Don’t Stop Asking” contain that central motif and the true heart of the score. When the score gets goofy it does get goofy. I felt a little bit of “pretending to be a spy” element. “Brain Control” has a bit of a Morricone western vibe to it. However, to me the essence of the score is to project a misunderstood loneliness in the Barry character. I feel like”Mouse World” is the track that sealed the deal for me. It allows us into Barry’s misunderstood world.
Shapiro has done something special here. At least for me. It was a score I could truly feel, and in the end those are the ones you remember. Something that can project your emotions and bring them out. The most notable thing for me was that I felt the characters within the score, and that’s pretty amazing. I really urge you to give it a listen, and I hope Shapiro does more work like this in the future.