There is no doubt that the concept of The Dinner holds potential. A family drama unveiling in tandem with a multi-course meal could be an intimate, tense and emotional journey. Based on the bestselling Dutch book of the same name, the story has already been adapted into film in its homeland and in Italy, making this the third, and perhaps least effective, version.
Two brothers and their wives meet in a fancy restaurant to confront some troubling issues. Paul (Steve Coogan) is a former teacher who shows signs of mental instability and Claire (Laura Linney) is his patient wife and the adoring mother of their teenage son Michael. Stan (Richard Gere) is a politician busy with his campaign, his sons by former partner Barbara (Chloë Sevigny), Rick and Beau, were raised by his second wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), who now accompanies him to the awkward but necessary meeting. It transpires that cousins Michael and Rick were involved in a deplorable act of violence, and a video of the incident could expose the young boys and devastate the already weak bonds within the family.
At first, it seems as if the dining experience will be the focus of Oren Moverman’s film, both in terms of the culinary aspect (each dish comes with an elaborate description), as well as the conversations that take shape around the table and gradually reveal the plot. The initial attention to the ceremonially presented fancy dishes eventually disappears, however, and the dialogues become dispersed as Paul’s resentful digs at his successful brother interrupt the flow, with the characters continually leaving the table in anger and frustration.
The potential for a dramatic crescendo becomes impossible to achieve as the meal is constantly disrupted by digressions in the conversation, interruptions by the waiters, Stan’s assistant urging him to take important calls and very long flashbacks. Rather than create suspense, the delay in divulging the essential points in the plot causes the tension to scatter and the audience’s interest to wane. The final courses of the meal are barely mentioned, which not only makes the menu framework redundant, but the course names appearing on screen end up looking bizarre and silly alongside the brutal developments in the story.
The plot does introduce some meaty subjects, especially concerning the enormous gap between appearances and the raw feelings that actually drive the characters and that are fully exposed only when the status quo is threatened. The capable cast is wasted on this messy drama, which is overall clumsy and lacks focus from the overdone beginning to the rushed ending.
The Dinner is released nationwide on 8th December 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Dinner here: