“The Dinner” Serves Unsatisfying Courses

By Matthew Holman, Staff Writer

“The Dinner” is a film which unfortunately not only bites off more than it can chew, but ostensibly chokes itself from overstuffing. The new feature, coming from American director Oren Moverman, is based on the 2013 bestseller of the same name by Dutch author Herman Koch. Despite its foreign origins, the plot is nothing a national audience will be unfamiliar with: two wealthy couples sit for dinner, with the topics of discussion starting innocently enough, but as time passes the metaphoric lid is lifted off, with darker truths and shocking revelations coming to the surface. The film’s cast matches the high-profile nature of the source material, with its ensemble consisting of Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, and Rebecca Hall. With its classically juicy narrative, polished performers, and appearances in prestigious festivals such as Berlin and Tribeca, “The Dinner” would seem to have the ingredients to make for a darkly delicious time. Quite frankly, it’s not; rather, the entire piece tastes like a mix of several strong flavors overpowering one another, which ultimately makes the film come across as an unidentifiable smorgasbord of events and styles.

The aforementioned dinner relays between conversations of the ensemble withholding a provocative secret: in this case, the sons of the respective couples have committed a grisly atrocity, which strikes the four characters in different emotional fashions. But instead of giving the weight and reflection of this event the buildup of suspense it rightfully needs, “The Dinner” unsubtlety throws everything at the wall the moment the couples sit down to eat, and exposition from the dialogue theoretically hypes the revelation of this event to a level where when it does become unveiled in the final act, it feels flat and unsurprising. Added to the sentimental mixing bowl are a series of flashbacks, utilized at essentially random instances by Moverman, which chop up the flow of both the narrative and emotional progression and make the entire film somewhat incoherent.

The distinction of an incoherent narrative would perhaps benefit the flashes of avant-garde filmmaking flirted with here. The time at which the flashbacks occur in the plot are just a measly example of this; the main course of artistic expression is served in the middle of the films run time, in what appeared to be an attempt to make the themes and subject matter of the film more symptomatic: avoiding spoilers, one of the characters is shown to have undergone several serious bouts with mental illness, all of which is complimented with jarring montages and imagery. While one can appreciate the ambition to take the narrative in this direction, it does ultimately appear too strong for the melodrama that both proceeds and succeeds it, which makes its insertion into the plot feel forced and unnecessary.

But despite is shortcomings, the stated ingredients of “The Dinner” are strong.  The ensemble are all great, and never mind incoherence, the plot is engaging enough to capture spectator attention throughout the film. Yet the final product tastes bizarre and unrecognizable. Above all, that might be what’s most frustrating about “The Dinner”: it has all the elements to be something the audience can insatiably hunger for, but by the film’s rushed finale, no questions are truly answered yet nothing is implied by the end as something to truly digest.

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