Adapting foreign movies or books is a popular thing for movies, because there’s a feeling of “Well, it already worked once right?” But sometimes certain things don’t translate well, and other times it’s not the source material, but the adaptation choices. In this case, you take a dark satirical piece in Europe and attempt to make a weird, off-putting sad movie that practically screams “I matter.” But perhaps that isn’t a problem for everyone.
The Dinner comes from the book of Dutch author Herman Koch, and was adapted into this English version by writer/director Oren Moverman. The overall conceit is a dinner between two couples with a serious, horrible problem slowly simmering its way to the surface. Steve Coogan stars as Paul, a former teacher with mental issues who along with his wife Claire (Laura Linney) attends a dinner at a super fancy restaurant with Paul’s brother Stan (Richard Gere) and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall).
The interactions starts as simple little classic problems. Paul is jealous of his older brother and resentful due to his mental problems. Claire doesn’t like that she’s been the only one being strong but doesn’t want to leave her husband. Katelyn is annoyed and distant from her husband, who is always working and isn’t the best communicator. And Stan is just trying to do what he thinks is best for his family but is also overwhelmed by dealing with his long suffering brother.
But it soon appears that there is a different problem — something has happened with their kids. This leads to dramatic tensions and some difficult moral questions, which the film presents as impossible to solve. Although that’s not my feeling, I can understand why some people see it with difficulty.
The movie cuts away from the dinner to show a few time-disconnected flashbacks of Paul’s history in recent years before and after his nervous breakdown, and then a few scenes of the kids with their problems. These flashback scenes are tonally off, and use differing visual styles and auditory distortions to present an overall disconnection that attempt to mirror Paul’s mental issues.
Although I appreciate the attempt at mirroring character, theme, and setting contrasted against visual aesthetic and immersiveness, to me the disconnection actually caused me to feel disconnected from the characters. It was uncomfortable, but also dreary. It was a long movie, about two hours long, and it didn’t need to be so long.
There is a lot of care and technique in this movie, but it seemed very pretentious to me. I found all of the acting to be excellent, with Steve Coogan doing well as the mentally problematic outsider. It was more the writing that felt inauthentic, and the technique gimmicky and thus ultimately a bit insulting.
Overall, the movie was a solid “this averaged to a meh” for me. It’s hard to muster a lot of serious positive or negative energy for it. This is not a movie, I am pretty sure, that will last in the minds of that many people.
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The Dinner has a running time of 2 hours, and is rated R for disturbing violent content, and language throughout.