Film review: The Dinner (2017)

The film takes place during a dinner at an extremely fancy restaurant. It is hosted by Stan (Richard Gere), a powerful member of Congress running for governor of his state, and the others present are his trophy second wife Kate (Rebecca Hall), his former history teacher brother Paul (Steve Coogan with whom he has a tense relationship and who is the voiceover narrator), and Paul’s wife Claire (Laura Linney). As the dinner progresses through the various courses, we learn from the conversation and flashbacks that the occasion for the dinner is for the four of them to determine what to do about an appalling crime that their respective sons have committed that the police have not as yet been able to trace to them, and may never will because the victim of the crime is a black homeless woman and thus of no importance.

The film starts to engage you during the scenes in the restaurant as the four people skirt around what to do about their sons’ actions and then loses its grip when it wanders off into flashbacks that provide backstories that tell you what the crime was and also seek to explain Paul’s erratic behavior. There is an extended flashback to a visit by Stan and Paul to Gettysburg (Paul has an obsession with that Civil War battle) that adds little to the story. The ending is also abrupt and utterly unsatisfying. A film or book does not necessarily have to tie up all the loose ends in a nice bow but there is a difference between an ending that leaves you to ponder the ambiguity of the human condition and an ending where basic facts are omitted for no seeming reason and thus prevent you from plausibly exploring the meaning of what you have just seen.

Despite the presence of four, good, well-known actors plus Michael Chernus as the maître d’ who elaborately describes each dish, even the damn cheese, in the kind of flowery pretentious language that seems to be obligatory at expensive restaurants, I found the film to be terribly frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying. It does not help that none of the main characters are particularly likable.

The director’s intent is also obscure. Is the film a satire on the pretensions of the affluent, in terms of the places they frequent, the food they eat, their condescension and rudeness towards the staff at the restaurant despite their obsequiousness, their sense of entitlement that protecting their spoiled children from the consequences of the criminal behavior takes precedence over justice, and their latent racism and classism that bubbles to the surface despite their liberal façade? The film seems to want to be all those things, but it all feels scattershot.

In watching this film, it struck me that the premise was similar to that of the film Carnage that I reviewed earlier. In that film too, two urbane, sophisticated couples meet in an apartment one evening to discuss a fight that took place between their two young sons. While they hope to resolve the issues amicably, the evening spirals into conflict as all manner of latent hostilities and tensions are brought up. That film was tighter and much more wathcable, taking place entirely within the apartment of one couple. This idea of couples revealing their antagonisms during a social evening was a theme that Edward Albee also explored in his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I cannot recommend the film but here’s the trailer anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *