Dinner In America: Review. By Alif Majeed.
Right from the beginning, Dinner in America comes across as a definitive Gen Z version of Hal Hartley’s wonderful Long Island trilogy. Specifically, the misfit lovers from Trust and The Unbelievable Truth found a present-day counterpart in Simon and Patty. And every time Patty breaks into a dance, you get taken back to that iconic dance scene from Simple Men with a dash of Reality Bites thrown in. However, unlike the passive, introspective nature of the lovers in the Hal Hartley movies, the duo here are dying to explode at the slightest provocation. Even if their interactions as idiosyncratic as their predecessors.
I mean, Simon is undoubtedly an angry man and wants to be seen as a rebel. That much is certain. Who is his anger directed at, or why is he mad? Even he is unsure as he comes out as just confused and trying too hard to be a nonconformist despite the threat of jail time looming large. It starts right with Kyle Gallner’s character Simon and his explosive introduction when he burns the front lawn of a girl who had invited him to dinner. Right after being chased around by her family for hitting on her mom.
That first scene was almost a misdirection, as that family doesn’t show up later even though what he did would come back to haunt him throughout the movie. We move on to Patty (Emily Skeggs) and her family, with their first interaction almost a callback to American Beauty. They have gone to great lengths to make her look as plain as possible. Still, her character is interesting enough (or weird as per indie movie standards) to keep Simon curious. When Simon pulls a Freddie Prinze Jr from She’s All That in the middle of the film by removing her glasses and shaking her hair, she remains plain. And he remains interested.
You almost think Simon would show up with the boom box at the house again, proclaiming his love by the end. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but the ending works because the chemistry between Kyle and Emily is brilliant and you remain invested in them.
They sell the fact that these two misfits are made for each other and even buy into their fantasy of being a suburban Bonnie and Clyde duo. (Their first interaction is also very similar to the first time Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway meet in that classic).
But this is not a road movie as you realize they just keep driving around their local suburbs and never really go anywhere. The grand delusions they have of a crime spree extend to creating a ruckus and pulling a couple of fast ones on some local kids. When she asks him if they are going to jail, he deadpans, “Probably”. His hesitant expression when Patty wonders alond if he is her boyfriend also says a lot about his confused state of mind.
It is ultimately the tale of three suburban meals. Maybe the director Adam Rehmeier was shining light and providing a broader light on suburban America. Many important details are revealed during their interactions with their families and others they meet with during mealtime. Like the zinger about Kyle’s family was a delightful surprise.
That is when you realize that, though they like to believe they are a couple of star-crossed lovers on a spree, they are just a couple of normal suburban kids. Or as Patty puts it, trying to get through the best day of their lives. Before things get worse and they lose their chance at a decent dinner in America.
And pastiche or not, Dinner in America is an adequate tribute to all the movies it tips its hat to. It might come across as an imitator to all lovers on the run movies that came before it. But Kyle and Emily give the movie enough personality to make you want to take that ride with them. Or on second thoughts, maybe walk away in the opposite direction in case they decide to get you to pose with a dead racoon after knocking you out.
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