The Silent Film era rarely gets its due among modern audiences. Yet the work of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, and Garbo remains integral to film history. While films like Babylon and The Artist attempt to revive this magic, it’s been some time since we’ve seen a modern equivalent on the big screen. These performances required incredible energy and alluring non-verbal physicality to work, and few roles accomplish this without words. Yet Charlie Day, famed for his performance on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, attempts to revive the silent film star in an unusual format. Fool’s Paradise attempts to skewer the industry while also serving as an homage to the stars of old. While it certainly entertains, some poor performances and an unfocused narrative prevent Fool’s Paradise from greatness.
After bearing a physical resemblance to a difficult-to-work-with method actor, Latte Pronto (Day) enters show business. Despite not speaking a word and having the intellect of a child, he becomes an overnight star. His publicist Larry (Ken Jeong) pushes him at every opportunity. His agent (Edie Falco) surrounds him with a team motivated to extract as much value out of Pronto as they can. Pronto becomes a fixture of the city as he continues to rise through Hollywood, despite never saying a word.
Day focuses on the shallow nature of Hollywood throughout Fool’s Paradise. As a performer, he does his best to land the comedic beats, but when he’s surrounded by talking characters, his lack of dialogue stands out. It’s not that the character has nothing to say, but rather the character gets taken for a ride. Yet the idea that Hollywood eats up and spits out its talent is far from new. As noted in Babylon and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Hollywood is not a meritocracy. Yet by portraying this in a comedic light, Day seems poised to make more significant points. Unfortunately, they never come.
The real issue comes from Jeong and the writing of the publicist character. There are unquestionably some in the industry that believe they deserve fame more than their clients. Yet, at no point in Fool’s Paradise does Jeong’s Larry ever seem to have genuine feelings for his client. Instead, every moment feels gross as he tries to take advantage of the situation to benefit himself. Their relationship never feels like an authentic two-way street.
Additionally, Jeong plays the character too big in a film full of big performances. As a result, the film becomes unbalanced and unfocused. If he had the same screen time as other side characters, like Falco, it would not throw off the gravity of Fool’s Paradise. But as a clear second lead, it becomes unwieldy.
The other pieces of the ensemble shine when Day lets them go big. Kate Beckinsale gets to play into the superstar persona, and she rarely fails to get a laugh. Adrien Brody plays the same, letting his character’s artistic choices fuel drama resembling a dozen modern stars. They both dominate the screen time given to them, using the silent Day as an excellent sounding board for their characters.
Ray Liotta also dominates the screen until he disappears from the film entirely. Falco’s extreme portrait of an agent rarely fails to get a laugh. Common drops in for a fun sequence, but Day writes the role with heavy-handed dialogue. This becomes a problem as the film introduces new ideas, hits us over the head with them, and then abandons them. Slightly more polish and focus would not force him to tackle all of Los Angeles’ problems in one movie.
So many cameos and minor roles begin to lose their effectiveness. It makes sense for Day to call in his friends for bit parts, but they tend to distract. John Malkovich, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Jillian Bell all play into good bits. This gives Fool’s Paradise a throwback feel, not too dissimilar from comedies like Zoolander or Dodgeball. However, despite the talent showing up, Day’s movie never gets laughs as big as those films.
Day shows promise as a director (the camerawork is especially slick). Yet Fool’s Paradise gets bogged down. Despite a runtime of under ninety minutes, Day gets distracted with side dialogues and issues in Hollywood. This leads to bloat, which becomes difficult to overlook when the relationships do not fully work. Fool’s Paradise makes for a fun watch, especially for fans of Day, but its imperfections slowly eat away at what could have been a unique project.