Charlie Day’s Riff On ‘Being There’ & Sending Up Hollywood Is Limp

May 12, 2023

Charlie Day is well-aware that we know him for his voice—his raspy, high-energy chaos in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has helped make it one of TV’s longest-running shows, and his softening of those vocal cords to voice Luigi is part of one of this year’s most successful movies, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” So it’s a rare bit of cleverness that Day speaks very little in “Fool’s Paradise,” a limp send-up of Hollywood in which he plays a character all but borrowed from Hal Ashby’s brilliant 1979 film “Being There.” Whereas Peter Sellers’ character Chance the Gardener is only educated by TV and gardening, Day’s character, known initially as The Fool, does not speak at all—he lets a Hollywood rise and fall happen to him, pushed along by the hubris and delusions of his new co-stars, handlers, and audience. 
READ MORE: ‘Fool’s Paradise’ Trailer: Charlie Day’s Directorial Debut With An All-Star Cast Hits Theaters May 12
But unfortunately, Day also says even little as the movie’s writer and director, making his debut with various famous friends stuck with soft nudges at their workplace. Day is certainly qualified for commentary about navigating Hollywood’s fickle terrain, and maybe he made this script too early in his career behind the camera or before his star got even brighter. There are so many tired, insightless jokes to make about the Hollywood food chain, and writer/director Day falls for nearly all of them. 
It’s kind of a funny story how The Fool gets into this mess, in which successful Hollywood folk are shown to be—sigh—superficial, selfish, intense, out-of-touch with reality, and with shamans on speed dial. At first, The Fool is picked up off the street by a Hollywood producer, played by the late Ray Liotta. It turns out that The Fool is the spitting image of a revered but vile actor (played by Charlie Day), who has gone so method for a grimy Billy the Kid role that he’s trashing the production and making everyone hate him. I enjoyed this ongoing bit about method acting, as this movie toys with how silly the premise would be given the extremes actors could (and do) take it, but it’s also one of few moments in which Day offers a compelling point-of-view from behind the camera. 
When this star suddenly dies, The Fool is thrown into make-up and becomes his stand-in for the rest of the shoot—it doesn’t matter much that he doesn’t speak, that he’s unaware of what the camera is doing, or that the violence is happening on-set is in the name of artifice. The Fool earns raves reviews for his acting debut, with Variety praising the boldness of how he can’t stop looking at the camera (one of this movie’s mildly amusing jokes). Suddenly, The Fool has job offers, a mansion, and all of the lawyers, managers, and interns that come with it. None the wiser, The Fool just goes where he is pushed.
Day’s character gets the name Latte Pronto from the producer’s coffee order and is shepherded closely by Larry (Ken Jeong), who thinks he finally has his golden goose. For a time, he’s right. Larry sips energy drinks throughout, and is this world’s most high-strung person and the most sad. He’s also the rare source of making one feel something, as in a later scene that displays how much he cares about Pronto’s career, while having little for himself. Day tries to center the film on Latte and Larry’s relationship, like two fools finding each other, but it happens too late, and gets lost in the movie’s clutter.
“Fool’s Paradise” is just too dry, relying on hairstyling and make-up to tell half the joke: Adrien Brody plays Latte’s co-star Chad Luxt, with a clip-on big beard and equal bravado; Glenn Howerton has a wicked fake-looking black hairpiece as one of Latte’s cryptic handlers; Jason Sudeikis has long hippy hair and a goatee as Lex Tanner, a hot-shot director who guides The Fool into superhero hell; his co-star, Kate Beckinsale’s starlet Christiana Dior, who he suddenly marries and raises kids with, later has her eyes covered because of some ridiculous surgery. 
While riffing on how to be a Hollywood star, (in which the whiplash from one strange chapter to the next is the only really funny thing about it), Day relies on an antique coziness, wearing a fedora and acting with overall innocence like Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp. But in the scope of this colossal rise and hard fall and rise again, Latte loses more agency and consciousness than Day could have intended. Instead of being a docile, blank screen for us to project on, he becomes a blank character, a nothing performance. It’s a conceptual flaw—if Latte is barely reacting to the world, if he can be pushed around so easily, why should we pay close attention? And so from the foreground, we look to the film’s background, and it’s not much better there. 
The comedy in this movie is plainly underwhelming; physical gags are forced just like the plotting, as in a punchline that has Latte doing a dangerous stunt, or a moment in which he gets a black eye, but we don’t see it happen from the scuffling scene before. Some character comes from a rich, full-orchestra score by “Punch Drunk Love” and “Synecdoche, New York” composer Jon Brion—his first in five years since “Christopher Robin“—but even Brion is stuck trying to make the weak shenanigans more exciting than they appear.
Day is making the same points that many Hollywood fun-house reflections have made before, from “Alan Smithee’s Burn Hollywood Burn” to “Babylon” and back again. But he steps too far back from the biting, playful criticism of those movies, as if to not risk putting any clouds in his sunny, old-soul portrayal of Hollywood, or to lose the amiability he wants his directorial debut to impart. Sure, some connections to real-life issues can be found, but they’re so played out it becomes safe. Here’s yet another joke about superhero movies eating Hollywood, in which The Fool becomes “Mosquito Boy.” (“Or is it Mosquito Man?,” the on-going Tinseltown joke goes.) It’s all too passive, and lacking in incisiveness cleverness for its own good, barely served by Day’s nostalgia for better films and voluminous silent stars. [C-]

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