*. In my notes on the Italian version of Herman Koch’s novel The Dinner I mused about how Italian it was in its understanding and presentation of the family dynamics. I wasn’t sure about this, but I thought there was something going on there. In this American Dinner I think national identity is also in play.
*. I say this despite the fact that two of the four leads (Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall) are British, and it was originally supposed to be directed by Cate Blanchett, who hails from Australia. In the event, Blanchett backed out, and screenwriter Oren Moverman took over.
*. What makes it specifically American? Its insistence on dragging in so much American history, for one thing. Paul is a history teacher with a fixation on the battle of Gettsyburg. No, I don’t know what that has to do with anything but the movie spends a lot of time on it.
*. I also think Paul’s mental health issues are characteristic of America’s therapy culture, and help to make this a more American version of Koch’s story. If only all these mixed-up people could get on the right meds and stay on them . . .
*. There was nothing I liked about this movie. It is boring and unfocused. The dinner itself has no significance or role to play. I didn’t buy Richard Gere and Steve Coogan being brothers for a minute. I didn’t understand how such a tight little story got lost in so many flashbacks and digressions. Dramatically there is no sense of rising action or of a tightening noose. I agree with this appraisal by Kristen Yoonsoon Kim in Village Voice: “The dinner itself is constantly disrupted by long-winded flashbacks — often in cheesy soft focus — that seem intended to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Instead, they drift too far from the drama, undercutting it. The beauty of a single-location thriller is how the tension escalates in containment, but Moverman fails to seize that built-in advantage. Instead of dropping hints about what kind of monsters his characters might be, and then working toward a dramatic revelation, he works anticlimactically.”
*. I didn’t like any of the characters, and had to wonder at times who I wanted to see less of. Steve Coogan’s Paul won out, and unfortunately his is the central role. And finally I didn’t like the abrupt ending, aside from the fact that it brought the curtain down on such a dull experience.
*. The point of the novel — which has to do with the limits of parental responsibility — is largely dropped, with the adults more worried about themselves and Moverman more interested in chasing after some other theme. Such as how our most passionately held convictions may be ones we don’t believe in. That may have been an interesting point to make in another movie but as with all the mental health stuff it just leads us astray in this one. In fact, it leads nowhere.