The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
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The Dinner's strong ensemble isn't enough to overcome a screenplay that merely skims the surface of its source material's wit and insight.
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Not even a powerhouse cast can rescue this talky parable about how far parents will go to protect their kids.
Even with a top-notch cast and fine performances, the film is a long, bleak dirge.
At the heart of it all is a moral dilemma about the responsibilities attached to being a parent and the question of just how far you would go to protect your child. Nor does it stop there. It goes on to ask what such protection actually means.
As focus lurches distractingly from the heated dinner-table debate to a zigzagging network of flashbacks, momentum fatally stalls, while the illustrious ensemble of actors at the film's center never quite gets cooking.
Despite the skill of the cast, you spend much of the film trying to decide which of its characters most deserves to choke on an appetizer.
The Dinner is two hours of unrelenting nastiness, steeped in the trappings of extreme wealth and the toxic privilege it affords.
The adaptation of Hermann Koch's brilliant biting satire, The Dinner, was a huge disappointment to me.
This incredibly disturbing and often frustrating film can at times come across as pretentious, obnoxious, and distressing: but that's the point.
The Dinner serves up an interesting main course, but it seems like the filmmakers want you to fill up on bread first.
There's no shortage of ripped-from-the-headlines plot points: mental illnesses, millennial evil, political gerrymandering, failing education systems and snooty foodie culture all collide in what becomes a uniquely awful dramatic hodgepodge.
Themes of social inequality that whet our appetite eventually give way to unfulfilling contrivances.
This is a sad, talky, slow-paced movie that seems to drag on longer than its two hour running time. On top of that there is an ambiguous ending, which makes it seem even less worthwhile to sit through.
Rarely does a movie go so far out of its way to not tell a story as The Dinner does. Though it presents itself as being about a group of parents who meet to discuss how to handle a crime that their sons committed, it's constantly going off on tangents and then the tangents go on tangents. One of the film's themes is mental illness, so perhaps it's the film's intention to disorientate the audience. But it makes for piss-poor storytelling. It takes about half of the film to suss out who all the characters are and what's happened. And the film doesn't have an ending, it just stops. Featuring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, and Rebecca Hall, the cast is pretty good and delivers some strong performance, yet they're not able to save this mess. The Dinner is just a badly make film plain and simple.
The performances are very good, even though Steve Coogan plays one of the most insufferable protagonists I have ever seen, but the film itself is actually full of insufferable characters that test our patience and make this an awfully unpleasant experience to go through.
SPIT IT OUT - My Review of THE DINNER (1/2 Star)
Writer/director Oren Moverman knows better, right? I mean, I enjoyed THE MESSENGER and RAMPART, both providing Woody Harrelson with two of his best performances, but his latest, THE DINNER is, to put it mildly, a steaming stinker. Of course, the big dumb studio comedies would normally fill that bill, but when you assemble so much talent, it's that much more disappointing when it fails this miserably. I can honestly say that despite some very good performances, THE DINNER is easily the most excruciating moviegoing experience I've had in years.
Structured inexplicably around the multiple courses of a dinner at a fancy restaurant, the film gathers 2 brothers (Richard Gere, a gubernatorial candidate, and Steve Coogan, a high school history teacher) and their respective wives (Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney) as they hope to discuss a personal family matter. Trouble is, they're constantly interrupted by either Gere's chief of staff (a strong Adepero Oduye, PARIAH, 12 YEARS A SLAVE), who provides a ridiculous mcguffin regarding an impending vote on a bill, or by the wait staff who incessantly chime in about each dish, or by Coogan's endless mental health issues. Did I say endless? It literally takes almost an entire hour and a half for us to learn about the main issue because the above-mentioned interruptions just keep coming.
When it's finally introduced, our main characters have a heated conversation about it in attempt to come to an agreement. Without spoiling the topic, it amounts to one of those moral quandaries where there's no good answer. It's all told from the point of view of the slowly unraveling Coogan, who in the book by Herman Koch, served as an unreliable narrator. In trying to translate his mental state to the screen, the film ends up being more frustrating than mysterious.
Despite this, our five leads do well, with the great Hall beautifully building steam until her character snaps. Linney and Gere, with this being their 3rd collaboration on film, don't interact that much, but they both have solid grasps on their prickly characters. Coogan gets the meatiest part as an unstable, paranoid, angry, disappointed man who resents his successful brother and how his mental status is addressed by everyone around him. There's a compelling movie to be made about his character, but this isn't it. You just want to scream at the screen for everyone to just get on with it. It's basically a short film that's been heavily padded to its nearly two hour running time.
The film takes a somewhat psychedelic detour to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, so that we can learn about the death toll of the Civil War. It fits because of the violent themes at play, but it's a jarring tonal shift that should have been cut. The whole thing ends on an ambiguous note clearly intended to start some water cooler conversation. Mine went something like this:
ME: Can you believe that ending?
BUDDY #1: It's the director's final "fuck you" to the audience.
BUDDY #2: Nothing gets resolved.
ME: I guess we're supposed to think that violence begets more violence.
BUDDY #1: Something we already knew going in.
ME: Can you believe a movie called THE DINNER barely showed off the food?
BUDDY #2 (to the waiter at Canter's): I'll have the scrambled eggs.
BUDDY #1: I'll have the Denver Omelette.
ME: I'll have the Brooklyn Avenue with potato salad.
I guess Hollywood does have a lesson to teach us after all. No, not that stuff about violence. It's that no matter how unappetizing the film turns out to be, you're still gonna wanna eat afterwards.
Even though this film's narrative left a sour taste in my mouth, the actors notably Coogan redeemed The Dinner. A lengthy middle section focusing in on the Gettysburg battle brought the film to a screeching halt. The sibling rivalry between Gere and Coogan reminded me of The Smothers Brothers "Mom always like you best" skit. (5-13-17)
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