Hot Take: It starts out interesting but eventually you want to tell this movie to go fuck itself.
The Dinner accomplishes something most movies can’t. It contains three of the most wretched and deplorable characters in recent movie memory. The film gives you enough to explain away their behavior but then piles on to make it nearly impossible to defend their actions. The Dinner has 4 main characters and 3 of them are awful human beings. Come on!
Based on a novel by Herman Koch, the Oren Moverman The Dinner features two couples eating at a fancy restaurant having a discussion about serious family issues. Both couples are the Lohmans. Paul (Steve Coogan) and Claire (Laura Linney) are reluctant to go as Paul does not have the best relationship with his brother who is a politician. Stan (Richard Gere) and Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) have orchestrated the dinner with their family members to discuss a rather horrid incident involving their children that the film eventually gets to somewhere between dinner and dessert, I think. It’s really hard to remember as the film drags on and is about as disjointed of a film you’ll see.
Throughout The Dinner, there’s a sense the filmmakers want you to feel compassion for the characters you have been introduced to. It’s difficult, however, considering how heinous and contemptible their behavior is. Take Paul, for example. He’s suffering from mental illness and, through flashbacks, we learn that in the past, he also struggled coping with the illness of his wife Claire. He was a teacher but his mental illness pushed him to being unable to continue. Eventually, we learn that he thought his students loved him but he couldn’t handle finding out they really didn’t. We also learn that when his brother Stan tried to help him, he hit him across the face with a hot frying pan. Nice guy, this Paul is. (Oh! He might be racist, too!)Because of his mental breakdowns, Claire has become the decision maker of the couple and has a closer bond with their son Michael (Charlie Plummer). Both issues are particularly upsetting to the foul mouthed Paul who pretty much alienates everyone around him with his outbursts and inability to hold it together.
The one redeeming character of the film is Stan who is a politician. In our current climate, how difficult is it to buy that there’s a politician with redeeming qualities? Even the redeeming qualities he presents are screwed up as it feels like it comes more from a place of guilt than actual honor. Sorry I can’t give more details here but I’m toeing the spoiler line and if you decide to ignore my warning and see this debacle, I’d rather let the filmmakers be responsible for ruining your viewing experience. They don’t need any help.
I’m not sure what the goal of The Dinner is. Maybe as a novel, it does a better job of fleshing out the characters. The dissemination of the information is manipulative but, at the same time, damning to the foursome we’d rather not spend time (especially dinner) with. (Who the hell gets up from dinner so frequently that they miss entire courses of the meal?) Maybe the goal was to present characters you really hate and hold in contempt. I’m not sure. I never could figure out the narrative. Personally, I’d never want to have any of these people invite me to dinner… even if it was as fancy and exclusive as the place where they wined and dined their family troubles away.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Dinner Is Different
Even if you end up hating the film (like I did), The Dinner serves up it’s tale in a very unique way. This isn’t your cookie cutter film and the characters are complex and the performances are nuanced.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Give Me One Reason to Like Someone In This Film. Just One… I’ll Wait
Just remember, the most likeable character in the film is still a politician.
- A Dish Served Cold
The juxtaposition and flashbacks harken back to a time when this filmmaking style was more en vogue but is also a reminder of how difficult it is to effectively deliver a good film in this style.
- The Ending Can Kiss My Ass
One can contemplate the filmmaker’s desire to make an ending people will talk about over pie following it’s conclusion. All it did was irritate me and I wouldn’t be surprised if you come to the same conclusion.