Thursday, May 11, 2017
A Not Altogether Satisfying Meal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My expectations for "The Dinner" were high, but not met.
It has many good points. An A-list cast of top notch actors doing fine work, and, in the case of Steve Coogan, work of award caliber. It has a visual ambience more stunning than "My Dinner With Andre." You get to know what the entire meal is, and , best of all, you don't have to look at Wallace Shawn for two hours.
Nevertheless, viewing this film is a frustrating experience. It starts with the credits flashing onto the screen at the speed of a glaucoma test, so that it is barely possible to read them. Added to this, screenwriter Oren Moverman (who is also the director) has constructed a sort of darker "God Of Carnage"--more on that, later. Such a work, let alone a thriller, depends on dialogue and details, but Moverman overloads with overlapping, as though trying to channel Robert Altman. Now, Moverman's direction is better than his writing, but the thing is--I could always understand an Altman soundtrack; my quick, analytical mind could always pick out the dialectical fragments, and process them. Such is not the case here.
This is not especially important, as the story is fairly straightforward. Four couples--Paul and Claire (Steve Coogan and Laura Linney) gather with Stan and Katelyn (Richard Gere and Rebecca Hall) for the dinner of the title. Because Gere and Coogan are brothers, both couples are named Lohman. The brothers have issues; Stan is a self-serving politician, and Paul is an academic with genetic mental health issues. They have gathered at a high end restaurant to discuss a crime which each one's son, together, committed.
For those who do not want anything spoiled, I suggest you stop reading here. Because, in order to go further, I have to discuss matters at hand.
"The Dinner" is a tale of moral ambivalence. It poses a litmus test to the couples, and the audience, and I found my outcome more satisfying than the film's.
Their two boys, both typical teens, are out for an evening of hanging out, and drugging, when they come upon an automatic teller booth. They go inside, and, at first, I thought they were going to hack into someone's account, which would have been bad enough, only what they do is actually worse. Once inside, they find a sleeping homeless woman, there for shelter and comfort. She is not bothering anyone. Those of us, like myself, have had this experience many times over.
But, instead of ignoring her--which is what in reality one does in most cases, unless threatened--the boys verbally abuse her, beat and kick her to death, and set she, and the booth, on fire!
Because the scenes are constructed like the divisions within a dinner menu, the narrative unfolds back and forth over time, with the parents berating themselves, their children, and lastly voicing a fierce determination to protect these kids, no matter what. Where "God Of Carnage" turned the adults into comic replicas of their children, "The Dinner" transforms the Lohmans into the monsters their boys are, so it was apparent, at least to me, where the boys' monstrosities stemmed from.
The irony is that it is Stan (Gere), the politician planning to run for governor, and who has the most to lose, who comes closest to possessing a moral compass. It is he who insists the boys must own up to what they did, and he is willing to go the authorities, sacrificing his career, and everything. Until wife Katelyn manipulates him into keeping things quiet, for there days.
Everyone goes haywire--Claire is self-righteously defensive, much like her character in "Mystic River," Paul comes close to killing the other boy, and Katelyn just wants to gloss things over. She is the prettiest, so why not?
The movie ends abruptly, and inconclusively. If you feel angry--as I did--that the boys might get away with it, carry this story three days forward. What happens after then?
Will Stan go to the authorities? My hope is he will, but he probably doesn't. However, with the boys being teens, uncontrollable and impulsive, someone will brag, someone will hear--and someone will eventually talk.
I mean, should these children be protected? Yes--from society and themselves--by locking them away in prison. To hell with their youth; they sacrificed that once they verbally abused that woman. Who just happens to be a human being. I am telling you, the film does get under the skin. It made my blood boil.
I suppose it is made to get viewers thinking. It does, but I wanted a more straightforward ending.
Maybe that is the one each viewer ends up giving to him/her self.
"The Dinner" may be high end, darlings, but you come away from this meal, feeling hungry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!