Montclair Film Festival Brings Unstable Film “The Dinner” to the Table

Written by on May 2, 2017

Photo and Story by: Julia Siegel

Film festivals typically show thought-provoking films, so it was no surprise that director Oren Moverman’s latest feature, The Dinner, made the lineup. Based on the Dutch book by Herman Koch, The Dinner uses a choppy, non-linear narrative to show how far four neurotic parents would go to protect their teenage children after they commit a horrific crime. The story unfolds through a series of flashbacks to formative times in the characters’ lives to show how their respective neuroses developed. The main narrative takes place at a fancy restaurant, where the adults meet to discuss what to do with their children. The concept is intriguing, but the execution did not hold my focus.

The film stars Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, and Rebecca Hall, who were all fantastic in their roles. Gere and Coogan play brothers that don’t get along too well, as Gere is a politician and Coogan has mental health issues. Coogan is the standout in the film, as he balances his natural cynicism and comedy with a boat load of seriousness. His character has the most development, as the film shows his struggle with mental illness over what appears to be a ten-year period. Coogan has many great scenes where he lashes out at people, which were brilliantly neurotic. His voice also lends itself to many voiceovers throughout the film to further deepen the narrative and to specifically remind the audience that they shouldn’t trust Gere’s character. However, Gere seems to be the sanest person of the group, even though he has a lapse in sanity at the end.

Hall and Linney’s characters go from seemingly normal to extreme as the family’s dinner continues. To not spoil the horrific acts their children commit, it was appalling to see the women defend the children. Each of these four characters is insane in their own special way, which reminded me a lot of how Woody Allen constructs his characters. The characters were truly the only bright spot of the film. It may have just been me, but I had a hard time relating to the story, following the random flashbacks, discerning when they took place, and their context.

With a run time of two hours, The Dinner is too long and drawn out. It is easy to lose focus by the middle of the story, as there really aren’t any attention grabbers to keep interest. Non-linear storylines aren’t atypical, but I felt there was no distinct structure to the story. There were too many different styles of storytelling, making the entire film hard to decipher. Moverman was in attendance at the screening and discussed the film afterwards to bring more clarity. He purposefully didn’t use a three-act structure, or standard storytelling, because he felt it was the best way to tell the story.

He mentioned that the film had its United States premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 24, 2017, where the audience embraced the film. It was hard to gauge the Montclair audience’s reaction to the film, but most of the theater emptied out as soon as the credits rolled and before Moverman came out on stage to speak. The people that did stay for the Q&A segment and asked questions all discussed how they connected with the film and very much enjoyed it. The Dinner will be starting its limited release theatrical run on Friday, May 5, 2017.

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