Review: Dinner in America

There seems to be a certain type of indie film that only premieres at the Sundance Film Festival. Ostensibly black comedies with quirky, often disagreeable protagonists, they usually take place in the US heartland, but what makes these movies distinctive is that they vanish immediately afterwards. And one more thing: they always seem to find a Japanese distributor. 

Adam Rehmeier’s Dinner in America is set in Lincoln, Nebraska, sometime in the 90s. It’s likely semi-autobiographical since the protagonist is the leader of a local punk rock band and Rehmeier had a hand in writing the songs performed. Simon (Kyle Gallner) isn’t just a punk rocker. He’s an anarcho-nihilist who is unabashed in his hatred for everything conventional, a sensibility that comes to a head during the titular family ritual, of which there are three extended examples in the film. Two of the three end up in very violent free-for-alls sparked by Simon’s provocative mouth. The third results in his receiving an invitation to stay the night. Unbeknownst to his hosts, he needs a place to hide from the police, who want him for arson and assault. While on the lam, he comes across Patty (Emily Skeggs), a college dropout and social misfit who has just been fired from her job in a pet store, and gets himself invited to dinner at her house with her clueless parents and hormonally confrontational teenage brother. Acting saintly, he fools the folks and then later, in Patty’s room, realizes she idolizes the masked punk singer John Q. Public, who happens to be Simon. He doesn’t reveal his identity, but is intrigued because Patty has been sending John Q. love letters with dirty pictures and song lyrics he finds compelling despite himself.

Whatever else Rehmeier intended his movie to be it’s basically a romantic comedy: two totally mismatched personalies meet cute and then find ways around their differences to fall in love. In that regard, Gallner and Skeggs make a nice couple but the humor relies too much on the viewer’s capacity to be shocked by Simon’s misanthropy and Patty’s gullibility. There’s also an unfortunate tendency to use the 90s setting as an excuse to forego any attempt at PC responsibility. Homosexuals and people with developmental disabilities get a lot of grief (Patty is repeatedly called the “r” word by her peers), and while the characters who wield these slurs are clearly assholes, after a while the device feels forced. More to the point, the requisite fulfillment of gross revenge fantasies provides no satisfaction. The difference between scrappy and crappy is only one letter. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).

Dinner in America home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2020 Dinner in America LLC

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