The Dinner review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There must be some particular class and mindset to truly adore the drama of The Dinner. The film finds two troubled couples coming together one evening for a dinner that takes a dark turn. They’ve already had troubled lives of tragedy and discriminating in their first-world, intellectual levels of stuffiness. Things get worse for them when one of their teenage sons, in an act of seeking fun, burn a homeless woman to death. In their minds, the protection of their lives and children trump any sense of morality. In a different film, this would be a dark drama of snobby elites trying to cover up a murder. But within the confines of the comfy intellectual, all of this amounts to little more than ignorant bickering.
Nobody in this film is likable as it's hard to grow attached to any of these tunnel-visioned adults that approach the world with a flawed liberal perception. Steve Coogan plays the most tragic of the cast as a father who lost his wife, struggled to raise his son, has clearly racist problems he has yet to conquer, and is just not a fun person to be around, more concerned with reading up on what to write for his next book then addressing any of the drama in his life. He attends a dinner with his emotional wife (Laura Linney), his political congressman of a brother (Richard Gere), and his brother’s scrutinizing wife (Rebecca Hall). Linney is the type of person that so desperately wants to make everything work she’s willing to overlook certain empathies and even legality, more to a disturbingly true degree than the comical. Gere tries to assert himself as more of the voice of reason, but Hall keeps loud with more irrationality.
Coogan’s son is played by Charlie Plummer as a troublemaker of the streets. He hangs with the wrong crowd and cackles at kicking around homeless people. It isn’t until his friends set one on fire that he finds himself freaking out. He’s going to go to jail for this. Or will he? Coogan, in his own warped sense of cranky observations of time, says it’ll all be okay. If nobody else saw it, nobody will know it’s him. Coogan’s logic is that time is pointless, that history has toppled over because of the internet and movies and manner of pop culture that pollutes our consciousness and shape of the world. Uh-huh. Sounds more like the rantings and ravings of that one teacher who is teetering on the brink of old-man babblings about kids these days.
Everyone in this film is hateful and overflowing with bad vibes, from Coogan’s rationalization of unseen murder to Hall talking down about how homeless people get what they deserve. Their conversations seem to start with intellectual subjects and then quickly descend into someone saying something deeply offensive, to which the other white characters will briefly chime “oh my god, that is so horrible” with more of a sigh than an I’ve-had-enough-of-this reaction. Their performances are not terrible in this aspect, but when you don’t care about anyone on screen getting away with this crime, what’s the point of it all?
The Dinner is a first-world problem buffet of bad choices and people. I dunno, maybe if I were the spiteful kind of intellectual that became so lost in books, tried to explain Seinfeld levels of stumbling racist statements, and told waiters to go F themselves, perhaps I might identify with the plight. But since I’m not of that demographic, The Dinner comes off as a meandering and mean film where nobody learns much of anything to the point that the moral option has to come after the childish and hateful characters kick and scream their way out the door. No other film had me calling for the check faster than this pointless trot down blabbering pseudo-liberal lane.