Fool’s Paradise: Charlie Day’s Directorial Debut

Larry standing in front of Charlie Day with his mouth open
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Spoiler Alert: This article contains mild spoilers for Fool's Paradise

At this point in his career, Charlie Day is very well recognized for his comedic roles in TV and film. He is best known for his long-running role as lovably dim-witted Charlie Kelly in the sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but he’s starred in several blockbuster hits such as the Pacific Rim and Horrible Bosses film franchises. He has also shown off his voice acting skills in several kids’ movies as well. (Most recently, he voiced Luigi in The Super Mario Bros. Movie.)

Before he became an easily recognizable face for his extensive acting work, Charlie Day was getting his start in show business by doing voiceover work for IFC (the Independent Film Channel). While working for IFC, he and his friends Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton began working on a sitcom. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Day explained that he lost his job, bought a house, and sold his sitcom on the very same day. On the day that he closed on his home, Day was fired from his voiceover gig at IFC. Later that same day he got the call that the sitcom he and his friends created, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” was being picked up by a network. Talk about an emotional roller coaster!

In addition to co-creating “It’s Always Sunny,” Day wrote and co-created the television show “Mythic Quest” with Rob McElhenney and Megan Ganz. He has written and co-written episodes of both television programs. Day often lends his musical talents to “It’s Always Sunny” as well. He has written and performed many songs for the sitcom over its long tenure. The show is entering its 16th season next month and is the longest running live action comedy on American television.

He also co-hosts the “It’s Always Sunny Podcast” with Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, and Megan Ganz. The podcast originally centered around the group rewatching old episodes of “It’s Always Sunny” and reminiscing over behind-the-scenes moments. However, in more recent episodes it has veered further from the topic as the group has grown a bit weary of the commitment to rewatch every episode.

Day’s latest project involves many of his talents: he wrote, produced, and stars in the feature film Fool’s Paradise. This is Day’s long-awaited feature film directorial debut. Filming for Fool’s Paradise began before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down filming, and Day had to handle his other work responsibilities in conjunction with his work on the film. Not only that, but reshoots further delayed the film’s release. The extra effort that went into this film’s production definitely paid off, because it tells a very interesting and unique story in a comedic way.

Fool’s Paradise features a strong cast including Ken Jeong, Ray Liotta, Kate Beckinsale, Adrien Brody, Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, and of course Charlie Day himself.

Ken Jeong plays Lenny, a hapless publicist who is desperate to get a big name client. He’s hunting for a huge star who can be his meal ticket and he will do whatever it takes to reach that goal. As the film opens, Lenny is at a diner, seated across from a dissatisfied client of his, a comedian who doesn’t see the value in what Lenny provides. Lenny unsuccessfully tries to reassure his client, who storms out angrily.

Meanwhile, Charlie Day’s character is in a mental facility for a mysterious condition that has left him in a childlike state and he is unable to speak. The hospital immediately discharges him and buses him downtown, leaving him to fend for himself despite his condition.

As the patient makes his way through Los Angeles, a chance encounter at an intersection introduces him to a hot-head big shot film producer played by Ray Liotta. The producer is in the middle of filming a movie and sees that Day’s character bears an uncanny resemblance to the film’s difficult star who refuses to cooperate with the production team and is deeply engrossed in method acting. Seeing an opportunity to replace their high maintenance star with a lookalike, the producer takes him to the film set to complete filming.

Lenny bribes a security guard to get on set and try to solicit some clients. When he notices the newcomer filming his scenes, Lenny immediately interjects himself as the lookalike’s publicist and gives him a new stage name of Latte Pronto. Latte accepts that Lenny is now his publicist and we begin to see a pattern: Latte simply goes along with the whims and desires of everyone he meets along his way. This gets him into a lot of trouble throughout the film, while everyone else seems to escape unscathed.

Upon the release of the film, Latte & Lenny rapidly find themselves in a whirlwind of opportunity. Despite Latte’s lack of acting ability, audiences love his performance and can’t get enough of him. Latte finds himself in a relationship with his beautiful co-star from the film, Christiana Dior, played by Kate Beckinsale. Latte’s agent, played by Edie Falco, finds him an opportunity for a leading role in an upcoming superhero movie. However, the film’s director Lex Tanner, played by Jason Sudeikis, encourages Latte to perform a dangerous stunt with no training and very minimal safety precautions. Latte is immediately injured during the first practice run of the stunt and is next shown laid up in the hospital. 

As quickly as Latte fell into fame, he falls back out of it. While Latte heals in the hospital, his stand-in for the superhero film skyrockets to fame in his place. Lenny desperately tries to make Latte relevant again, but the public has moved on to the next new thing and it seems that Latte’s time in the spotlight has passed. To add insult to injury, as Latte fades from the spotlight, Christiana Dior loses interest in him and leaves him. Having briefly experienced life at the top, Latte and Lenny are now in the lowest lows of their lives and must do some self-reflecting to complete their journey.

Strong comedic performances from all make for a fun and enjoyable 90 or so minutes. With cameos from “It’s Always Sunny” actors and roles played by Day’s Horrible Bosses co-stars, the cast is absolutely packed with familiar faces. The cast portrays a sordid group of Los Angeles actors, directors, and others in the film industry. Each actor provides an over-the-top caricature of stereotypical big Hollywood personalities. The film is full of spectacle that sounds like it could be ripped from the pages of any major tabloid. Day’s film is a satire of the film industry at its heart. According to him, “Everyone knows people in Hollywood are full of B.S. and I know audiences love to laugh at them!” 

Charlie Day delivers lots of laughs with his Charlie Chaplin-esque portrayal of Latte Pronto. Though he’s largely silent, he uses physical comedy and facial expressions to convey Latte’s emotions throughout the film. Ken Jeong, in turn, does a wonderful job portraying Lenny. He turns a desperate, self-involved publicist into a sympathetic character which is no small feat.

Interestingly, Ken Jeong’s role was originally much smaller. Upon receiving the first cut of Fool’s Paradise, Day felt that the film needed some rewrites to give the storyline a stronger narrative. “I wrote 27 pages of reshoots so that we could follow Ken’s character more. It completely transformed the movie,” Day revealed. “I loved what I saw Ken do for the first pass of the film and on the second pass I doubled-down on that. I told him to go even further emotionally, deeper. Audiences have never seen him give a performance like this. I gave him plenty of opportunity to be ‘Ken Jeong funny,’ but wanted him to be a serious dramatic actor as well. Some of the scenes I bookended with comedy, would only land if he went truly deep with his emotion and if he gave that to the audience. And he did.”

I found myself rooting for the ragtag duo of Latte and Lenny from beginning to end, which really goes to show how Day’s rewrites paid off in the long run. Ken Jeong himself agrees: “To have a director not only believe in you, but take you to the mountaintop as an actor, I can't convey in words how gratifying it is. It's the best work I've ever done in my career, thanks to Charlie Day.” Jeong’s performance is comedic to be sure, but has many dramatic elements which audiences haven’t had the opportunity to see from him in past roles. He knocks it out of the park on this one and I hope to see him do more dramatic roles in the future.

Overall, Day’s directorial debut is a compelling, charming, and funny film. With his first feature film under his belt, I hope that audiences can expect to see many more from Charlie Day when his busy schedule allows for it. He’s proven that he is a many of many talents, and he can now add film director to the list. Catch Fool’s Paradise in theaters starting tomorrow, May 12th!

Fool's Paradise premieres in theatres on May 12! See it at Regal. 

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