This is ‘not food porn’

The rot of Amer­i­can wealth on The Din­ner menu

Cape Breton Post - - Arts & Entertainment -

It’s fit­ting that the first images you see in the riv­et­ing fam­ily drama “The Din­ner” are of food. Fancy food. The kind of art­ful, de­signed fare that few mor­tals could pos­si­bly recre­ate and that bound books, tele­vi­sion shows, doc­u­men­taries and movies fetishize and wor­ship. But this is not food porn. There’s some­thing sin­is­ter about these images - the omi­nous mu­sic and the camera move­ments make these painstak­ingly de­signed and ex­or­bi­tantly ex­pen­sive dishes seem like all that is evil in the mod­ern world. It’s a sense that sticks with you through­out writer-di­rec­tor Oren Mover­man’s grandly am­bi­tious, if not wholly suc­cess­ful film.

Based on the Dutch novel by Her­man Koch, the set-up is small but in­stantly in­trigu­ing. Two mar­ried cou­ples are gath­er­ing for din­ner to dis­cuss some­thing sen­si­tive, some­thing to do with their teenage sons - cre­at­ing the at­mos­phere of gen­uinely sus­pense­ful who­dunit. One is a charis­matic con­gress­man who’s running for gov­er­nor, Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) and his primly coiffed (and quite young) wife Kate­lyn (Re­becca Hall). The other is Stan’s per­pet­u­ally ag­grieved brother, Paul (Steve Coogan) and his tol­er­ant wife, Claire (Laura Lin­ney).

Paul, a for­mer pub­lic school teacher who is ob­sessed with the Civil War, doesn’t want to go to the din­ner. He hates the drip­ping deca­dence and pre­ten­tion of the restau­rant and does not seem in­ter­ested in pre­tend­ing to be any­thing but dis­dain­ful of the op­er­a­tion, even as the ea­ger hosts and per­fectly pleas­ant maitre d’ (Michael Ch­er­nus) proudly ex­plain what’s on each dish and why it’s so spe­cial. Paul’s awk­ward stub­born­ness is even a lit­tle en­dear­ing at first — he seems to be on to some­thing wor­thy about wealth and op­u­lence as he man­ages to em­bar­rass the staff, his brother and his wife. But as the meal, and film progress, his true makeup emerges. Paul might have big Marx­ist ideas at the ready, but he comes from the same im­mensely ad­van­taged stock as his brother Stan.

As each course comes out, a new layer is ex­posed in the com­plex tapestry of the lives of the two Lohman fam­i­lies — Stan’s first wife Bar­bara (Chloe Se­vi­gny), var­i­ous health is­sues, of the men­tal and phys­i­cal va­ri­ety, and the deep-seated dam­age and cor­ro­sive­ness of long-unchecked priv­i­lege.

The per­for­mances are first rate - nu­anced and lived in from the first mo­ments of per­for­ma­tive ci­vil­ity to the shat­ter­ing barbs thrown by the end - even if the women are given the com­par­a­tively short stick here. But it is, es­sen­tially, about the broth­ers and both Coogan and Gere are up to the chal­lenge.

It takes a lit­tle too long for the movie to ar­rive at the Big Thing. “The Din­ner” does not weave time and rev­e­la­tions as el­e­gantly as, say, “Manch­ester by the Sea” did just last year. There are so many fits and starts and di­ver­sions and delays that even the most pa­tient viewer will have a hard time buy­ing that it would take these four this long to get to the point. By the time they do, the nat­u­ral in­ter­est has slowed and pa­tience is wan­ing. But with the rev­e­la­tion, how­ever tardy, a new eth­i­cal and moral co­nun­drum arises which ef­fec­tively pro­pels the film to its fiery end. It might even leave you want­ing more.

To be per­fectly blunt, though, “The Din­ner” is not an easy watch, and it may be hard to stom­ach for some. If I may of­fer a sug­ges­tion: “The Din­ner” is best con­sumed with a very stiff drink by your side, pos­si­bly alone.

“The Din­ner” does not weave time and rev­e­la­tions as el­e­gantly as, say, “Manch­ester by the Sea” did just last year. “

“The Din­ner,” a The Or­chard re­lease, is rated R by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica for “dis­turb­ing vi­o­lent con­tent, and lan­guage through­out.” Running time: 120 min­utes. Three stars out of four.

MPAA Def­i­ni­tion of R: Re­stricted. Un­der 17 re­quires ac­com­pa­ny­ing par­ent or adult guardian.


Chloe Se­vi­gny, a cast mem­ber in “The Din­ner,” poses at the pre­miere of the film at the Writ­ers Guild The­ater on Mon­day, May 1, 2017, in Bev­erly Hills, Calif.

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