Starring Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny
The author of the novel, in which this film (and two other foreign films) is based, walked away from the premiere. He said this was the worst adaptation yet. Writer/director Oren Moverman’s The Dinner is quite frustrating, it buries the lead if you will, until the end of act two. The Dinner is almost set up like Roman Polanski’s Carnage, two sets of parents arguing over their children. However, The Dinner is narratively opened up, including lots of flashbacks and cutaways to other characters. Affluenza is what The Dinner is really about, Laura Linney’s character even refers to the term coined to describe children raised in wealth who don’t understand, or are not punished for the consequences of their actions.
Paul (Coogan) and Claire (Linney) Lohman have arrived at an expensive restaurant to meet with Paul’s brother Stan (Gere) and wife Katelyn (Hall) Lohman to discuss something very important. Stan is a congressman, running for governor, with a very important mental health bill on the line. Paul, suffers from mental illness, often speaking out of turn, hijacking every conversation and easily provoked to confrontation. Tonight’s dinner is to discuss the future of both parent’s son’s involvement in a murder, in which the teenage boys set a homeless woman on fire but have not been identified as the culprits. The family is at odds on how to handle and proceed with the predicament.
Quite frustrating, as it buries the lead, until the end of act two.
From the film’s opening moments, featuring young teenagers at an out of control party, oddly transitioned to Coogan’s character giving an unrelated historical voiceover. The editing is peculiar, the musical choices unfitting. Stan Lohman’s personal assistant, who interrupts the dinner conversation during the entire film with phone calls and poll updates, at one point asks, “Why are we here?”. That’s the million- dollar question, why would this family dealing with something so private choose to do so on one of the most public and important nights of Stan’s political career. Not to mention the nature of the conversation they are so hoping to sweep under the rug. The entire setup of this film is bogus and feels as staged as it looks.
The long, extended scenes of flashback used to help the audience understand Paul’s mental health issues are supposed to explain his behavior. The scenes are so long that we nearly forget about the dinner scene. On the same note, Coogan (Philomena, Night at the Museum) was the absolute wrong choice here. Gere does Gere, Hall (Christine, Iron Man 3) is trying too hard most of the time, while Linney rises above everyone else, tapping into her Mystic River persona for this role. The script has a real problem with empathy and getting the audience to care about anything these characters are discussing. When the story finally gets to the main point, you wonder why Moverman felt such a need to add in all the stuff about Gettysburg, the weird restaurant and the waiters, and not just focus on the reason for the dinner in the first place.
A complete disarray.