As a book, I very much enjoyed The Dinner. It’s fascinating and controversial but hard to talk about without giving everything away. Same goes for the movie I suppose, but the most important takeaway is that the movie is very, very bad. Read the book. It’s a gut punch page-turner. The movie fucks it all up.
First, the book is Dutch. The movie of course makes the characters and setting American (even though half its stars are Brits). It’s about two couples who meet at a very fancy schmancy restaurant to discuss their problematic children. Paul (Steve Coogan) is a history teacher with some mental health problems; his wife Claire (Laura Linney) is a cancer survivor. It’s hard to say who is more protective of whom. Paul’s older brother Stan (Richard Gere) is a politician poised to become an even more powerful politician, as evidenced by the aides who can’t quite allow him a moment of peace or privacy during the dinner (not that he objects); his wife, aka, his second wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) raises his kids so that he can govern unencumbered and expects to be rewarded. Their sons have recently been involved in a crime that is making its way around Youtube. They are thus far unidentified but now the parents must decide how to handle things should they found out – or should they remain undiscovered.
The dinner is filled with tension, not just because of what their boys have done, but because of the strained family dynamic between Paul and Stan. And because Paul is uncomfortable with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the haute cuisine. The dinner is constantly interrupted by flashbacks, many of which actually detract from the story. The book is really about morality and the thin veneers we hide behind in “civilized” society, and the tension ratchets up as more and more secrets explode like bombs dropped among the gold-rimmed china. The movie doesn’t manage to retain much of what makes the novel great. The characters are repugnant because they’re stripped bare of any pretense. The worst has happened, their primal, parental instincts have been activated – anything can happen.
But the movie just drops the ball. It’s a complete waste of time that doesn’t even know what to do with itself. It has maybe the worst, most abrupt ending that I’ve ever encountered, and it made me want to interrupt their dinner by swinging an angry cat around by its tail. Fuck y’all.