Saturday, May 13, 2017

Movie: The Dinner

The Dinner:  a family drama.  Despite its title, this is not a film for foodies nor is it a kin to My Dinner with Andre.  This movie is for mental health professionals who are jonesing for a challenge.  Two brothers, Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan), a former history teacher, and Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), a congressman now running for governor, meet for dinner at an elite restaurant.  The brothers are accompanied by their wives; Paul’s wife Claire (Laura Linney), and Stan’s young second wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall).  The performances by all four actors are excellent.  The premise of the film is that through the vehicle of the five course formal dinner, various elements of the family are revealed.  An incident has occurred and Stan has interrupted his campaign to meet with his brother and sister-in-law.  It is clear upon our introduction to Paul that he has issues, as noted by his running internal dialogue.  As the courses are served, someone is always getting up and walking away.  Each course is described by the presenters and, although each course sounds elaborate and expensive, most due not sound appetizing.  But the problem is not the food or the overly elegant and affected service.  Colored in part by my personal biases, I believe the problem rests with the film’s director and screenwriter, Oren Moverman.  Those of you who are longtime readers know I am not a fan of flashbacks.  In this particular film, the characters are discussing various family incidents and suddenly we are launched into a flashback.  This tactic is used far too frequently.   By the time you reach the halfway mark of this 120 minute movie, you start to question the point of this seemingly disjointed film and wonder where it is this going; the storyline feels to be aimlessly rambling.  Up to this point, the information has been sufficient to establish that this story has to do with three teenage boys who are connected to the two families.  Then you are smacked with the horrendous deed that two of the teenagers have committed.  The rest of the film deals with how the parents handle what their children have done.  Spoiler alert:  only Stan, the politician, takes the high ground.  A further Spoiler Alert:  because the film addresses a significant moral question, I will be discussing the deed involving two of the boysWhat do you do when your child commits a heinous crime, in this case firebombing a homeless person, and the police do not know the identity of the perpetrator?  Do you protect your child or do you report the truth?  Presumably, by making the crime so hideous, the viewer must also make a choice.  The film’s ending is ambiguous, including the action taken by Paul as to Stan’s second son, an adopted African-American teenager who did not participate in the crime but who did post the incident on-line.  Personally, I don’t know how one can truly hide such action.  It is clear that Paul’s son has psychological issues and, in light of the family’s history of mental issues, the decision should not be difficult.  Other questions are how is it possible for the mothers be so oblivious as to what’s going on with their children, and why?  This film presents a serious subject without any comic relief, with the possible exception of the restaurant’s absurd pretentiousness.  As noted, the acting throughout is excellent.  This film, based upon the 2009 novel by Dutch writer Herman Koch,  deserved a better script.

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