UK Release Date: 8th December 2017
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Oren Moverman
Writer: Oren Moverman
Starring: Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall, Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Miles J Harvey
Synopsis: Bickering brothers and tumultuous family relationships come to the forefront at a fancy dinner when a horrible secret is revealed.
I was struck while watching The Dinner with a sense of strange familiarity. It wasn’t until after the credits rolled that I realised I had actually seen the story before, in the rather dull Italian drama I nostri ragazzi a few years ago. Both films are adapted from the same Dutch novel, published in 2009, which also spawned a film adaptation in its native Netherlands. It was inevitable the story would eventually make its way into the English language, but it has done so in tedious and melodramatic fashion, squandering the impressive talent involved.
The film sees cynical History teacher Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) travel to a fancy restaurant, where they will meet Paul’s brother Stan (Richard Gere). Stan is a politician in the heart of an election campaign, which exasperates his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). As the pleasantries fall away, it becomes clear the meeting has been arranged to discuss a terrible crime committed by their children, which threatens to pull the entire family apart.
In trying to go back to the source novel rather than previous film adaptations, writer-director Oren Moverman has kept some baffling details and structures in place. The book is structured around the courses of the dinner and the film pilfers this device, only for it not to affect or inform the story in any way. It simply comes across as a pretentious affectation that, in fact, seems to extend the movie to an almost infinite length – making two hours feel like millennia passing by at the pace of a narcoleptic snail.
The Dinner is packed with shouty, hammy performances and needless melodrama. Steve Coogan is baffling as an arrogant grouch who describes himself unironically as a “warrior of the underclass” and is kept in the dark as the story unfolds around him. Gere slots into his trademark persona and the two female leads get almost nothing to do. It’s Coogan and Gere who are awarded a 10-minute detour to wander around Gettysburg in one of the film’s constant, soporific flashbacks.
This is a film starring some of the best talents the acting world has to offer, but it never sits back and allows those performers to act. The direction is baffling in seeking big, broad performances lacking in nuance and they are not helped by the decision to withhold the actual plot until an overwrought climactic scene allows all of the emotions to spill out. The Dinner makes very little impact on its audience and simply retreads a story that has already been told several times before.
Pop or Poop?
There have definitely been films worse than The Dinner this year, but I’m not sure there have been many that are as dull to endure. It’s melodramatic dialogue performed at deafening volume by actors who should no better, telling a story that has been gone over multiple times and is obfuscated by dozens of flashbacks. If I got this in a restaurant, I’d send it back and demand a refund.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.