Fool’s Paradise (2023)
Directed by Charlie Day
Starring Charlie Day, Ken Jeong and Kate Beckinsale
Fool’s Paradise, the directorial debut from Always Sunny in Philadelphia star and co-creator Charlie Day, was one of my most anticipated films of 2023. Now that I’ve seen this embarrassment of riches, it’s likely to be my greatest disappointment of the year as well.
Everything on paper pointed to greatness – a Tramp-like character reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s greatest films with a Being There (1979) Peter Sellers vibe. Add in a supporting cast of good actors like Ken Jeong, Kate Beckinsale, Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Adrien Brody and the late, great Ray Liotta and how could this film NOT deliver on funny, fun and heart?
As I started to view the film, with its black screen and two characters talking, I got even more excited when one of my favorite standup comedians, Andrew Santino, gave an uncredited and hilariously scathing look at modern Hollywood and media in general. I strapped myself into my theater seat along with a dozen matinee film goers prepared to laugh and maybe cry. I did neither. Once the plot materialized – a film actor replaced with a lookalike who reaches stardom, decline, ruin and then salvation – each and every beat of the film was a generic trope delivered with a wink and nod. It’s so dissapointing when you have high expectations for a film and it doesn’t really deliver on the funny, the fun or the heart.
Day’s performance is commendable as the silent and dimwitted Latte Pronto. If Fool’s Paradise was a 18-25 minute episodic journey like the actor is known for then, who knows, it may have been highly entertaining. But the character fails to carry a feature-length film. There just isn’t enough substance, it’s just a series of gags that fall flat.
I imagine Day intended his modern-day retelling of Being There to be full of thoughtful, scathing commentary, but the execution comes across hollow and forced. Is this due to the script? The performances? I’m not sure, but it seemed like every actor tried their best to transfer what was on the page to the screen with an almost precious and earnest approach, especially Ken Jeong as “Lenny the Publicist.” Normally, this passion would lead to a great performance, but the words written for this character – the character with the most lines in the film – aren’t convincing, thoughtful or funny.
Films can be silly, thoughtful and even tragic but without laughter they fail as comedies. Fool’s Paradise was silly, but it wasn’t thoughtful or tragic and most importantly it did not make anyone in the audience laugh. Were they all there to see Charlie play Charlie from ASIP? Was I? Maybe, but unfortunately the film’s narrative and execution didn’t build upon any of the inherent goodwill the audience had for Day.
I want Charlie Day to have more opportunities to make feature films, so maybe I am wrong, and you should stream Fool’s Paradise as many times as possible. I hope you laugh more than I did. Even more than that, I hope I am wrong about this film.
If Modern Times and City Lights my two favorite Chaplin films are both an A+ and the Peter Sellers great Being There is an A then Fool’s Paradise is a D.