The Dinner (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 2 hours

Our content ratings  (1-10): Violence 5; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1–5): 4

Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.  Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.’

Luke 12:1-3

After their toasts, the 4 parents will get down to the grim business that has brought them together. (c) The Orchard

The titular dinner is at a palatial restaurant so fancy that the waiter treats the courses as if each were a work of art. As four assistants parade up to the table and lay a dish before the four patrons, he describes it as if he were a docent, naming the ingredients and their provenance. Clearly, this is a culinary haven for the rich and powerful. However, throughout the film (the divisions of which are named after each course, from aperitif to digestif) none of the four members of the party are able to enjoy the meal. They have gathered to discuss far weightier matters than food.

Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney are meeting with his brother Stan (Richard Gere), a U.S. congressman who is in the midst run for governor. His 2nd wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) is the fourth member of the party. Paul, a misanthropic former history teacher is there under duress because, as will see in flashbacks, he grown up always in the shadow of his high-achieving brother, but the reason for their meeting is too serious for him to stay away.

Their two teenaged sons are in trouble, deep, very deep trouble. The two boys had been out drinking at a party with friends and had come upon a homeless woman wrapped in a blanket trying to sleep in an ATM booth. Irritated, the teenagers had ordered her out, but she had refused to move, whereupon one of the boys had lighted a match and set her afire. The kids actually laugh as she burns up, regarding their deed as a prank. One of them had made a video and posted it on the internet. Now the fully sober sons are looking to their parents to get them out of their scrape.

Paul and Claire want to cover up their son’s crime, whereas Stan, surprisingly, talks about holding a press conference at which he announces his withdrawal from the campaign and then standing by their sons as they face justice. Katelyn, who realizes full well she has served as a trophy wife, castigates Stan, reminding him how she had taken over the raising of his son and being the dutiful politician’s wife for years. Paul and Claire are equally as vociferous in condemning any admission of guilt on behalf of their children.

The battle of words rages back and forth over the different courses, as well as in different rooms of the old mansion housing the restaurant. The class prejudice of Stan’s three opponents are revealed in their arguments about sacrificing the future of their sons for the sake of a homeless woman who should not have been in the ATM shelter. We witness the enormous capacity we have of self-deception and the old argument of a good end justifies. At this table we can see Cain justifying his murder of Able; of King David covering up his murder of Urriah; or to jump ahead in history, of President Nixon covering up the Watergate burglary. Will Stan be able to stand up against the onslaught of the three, or will he become like the Roman politician Pilate and cave in to pressure of others?

The film also can be seen as an interesting study of Paul’s character, one shaped by his boyhood in which he always played second fiddle to his brother and regards the world with deep cynicism—indeed as a student of history, he sees the Battle of Gettysburg as a metaphor of the world. A flashback to the brother’s touring the Gettysburg National Military Park, consisting of a montage of shots of the pair and numerous statues (some faces of the combatants in close-up), monuments and graves, is a powerful sequence.

You might have to search for this film on the internet because it played for just a week or two in a Cincinnati art theater before closing. This despite the excellent and well-known cast–Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall, and an excellent supporting cast. The characters become such toxic examples of what once were called the 1% that this film fare might be indigestible for those who prefer a happy hour film, but nonetheless leaves us with plenty to chew on long after the dishes are cleared away and the screen fades to black.

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP.

Little Men (2016)

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hours 25 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Saul spoke with his son Jonathan and with all his servants about killing David. But Saul’s son Jonathan took great delight in David. Jonathan told David, “My father Saul is trying to kill you; therefore be on guard tomorrow morning; stay in a secret place and hide yourself. I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; if I learn anything I will tell you.” Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, “The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you…

1 Samuel 19:1-4

2boys

Two boys try to keep their friendship alive despite a dispute among their parents. (c) Magnolia Pictures

The most famous friendship in the Scriptures is that between David and Jonathan, a friendship so strong that it survived even the jealousy and hatred of the latter’s father, King Saul. As director Ira Sachs’s Brooklyn-set film unreels we wonder if this will be the case for Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri)? The threat to their friendship is due to a dispute between Jake’s parents Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) Jardine and Tony’s Chilean-born mother Leonor Calvelli.(Paulina Garcia).

The 13 year-old boys first meet when the Jardines get out of their van and start unloading flowers and food for the gathering following the funeral of Jake’s grandfather Max. Below Max’s apartment is Leonor’s small dress shop. For many years Max had rented the space to her at below market price because they had become friends. She and her son Tony are watching as the Jardines unload their van, and when Jake drops some papers, Tony comes to his aid. Seeing some of Jake’s drawings among the dropped items, Tony expresses his admiration. So, later when the Jardine’s move into the apartment to save on housing expenses, the boys immediately bond, playing video games together, eating and sleeping over at one another’s, and traveling around the neighborhood, Tony on a scooter and Jake on skates.

Kathy’s income as a therapist is the family’s main support because Brian’s acting role in a non-profit’s production of The Sea Gull is very low paying. Greg’s sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) pushes Brian to offer Leonor a new lease that will triple her rent. Gentrification has greatly changed the neighborhood, increasing the value of its real estate. Audrey points out that her brother is benefitting from their inheritance by moving into the apartment, so she expects to receive her due from the inheritance by charging Leonor market value rent.

The three parents are often together for meals, but Leonor changes the subject when Brian raises the subject of rent. She stalls meeting with him as long as she can, but he finally visits her in her shop and explains the situation as he holds out a new lease agreement. Leonor describes her close friendship with Max and his reasons for not raising the rent as the neighborhood changed due to gentrification. When this does not sway Brian, she lashes out with the claim that his father had said some harsh things about him, that with his infrequent visits she was the real caregiver.

Not understanding the issues, Jake and Tony agree that they will no longer speak to their parents. This results in some awkward moments, especially between Jake and Brian. The boys continue to try to keep their friendship despite the increasing animosity among the adults—Leonor, finally served with the eviction notice that the reluctant Brian had tried to put off, hires a lawyer to see if there is a way she can keep her shop. Then, discovering the details of the dispute, the boys even try to come up with a compromise solution.

In a Disney-like film the boys pleading with the adults while offering their plan would have climaxed the film, ending perhaps with some hugs or a quiet handshake, but Ira Sachs is not out to make us feel good. He is intent on exploring the emotions and relationships of two adolescents caught in the crossfire of a serious problem felt by the adults. Both sides are short of money and have legitimate concerns they are pursuing. The closest to a villain is Jake’s Aunt Audrey, and with a little bit of empathy we can see that she too makes a fair claim.

As I thought about Jake and Tony’s buffeted friendship, the words of the theme song of the radio comedy My Fried Irma came to mind. Taken from the chorus of a Cole Porter musical, it declares, “Friendship, friendship, just the perfect blendship/When other friendships have been forgot, ours will still be hot.” A nice sentiment, and it certainly applies to the friendship that bound together Jonathon and David so strongly that not even King Saul’s fury could break. But can it apply to two young Brooklynites as well?

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the Oct. issue of Visual Parables.

The Dinner (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 2 hours

Our content ratings  (1-10): Violence 5; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 2.

 Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.  Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.’

Luke 12:1-3

Two brothers & their wives meet over a fancy dinner to deal with a serious problem with their sons.             (c) The Orchard

The titular dinner is at a palatial restaurant so fancy that the waiter treats the courses as if each were a work of art. As four assistants parade up to the table and lay a dish before the four patrons, he describes it as if he were a docent, naming the ingredients and their provenance. Clearly, this is a culinary haven for the rich and powerful. However, throughout the film (the divisions of which are named after each course, from aperitif to digestif) none of the four members of the party are able to enjoy the meal. They have gathered to discuss far weightier matters than food.

Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) are meeting with his brother Stan (Richard Gere), a U.S. congressman who is in the midst run for governor. His 2nd wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) is the fourth member of the party. Paul, a misanthropic former history teacher is there under duress because, as will see in flashbacks, he grown up always in the shadow of his high-achieving brother, but the reason for their meeting is too serious for him to stay away.

Their two teenaged sons are in trouble, deep, very deep trouble. The two boys had been out drinking at a party with friends and had come upon a homeless woman wrapped in a blanket trying to sleep in an ATM booth. Irritated, the teenagers had ordered her out, but she had refused to move, whereupon one of the boys had lighted a match and set her afire. The kids actually laugh as she burns up, regarding their deed as a prank. One of them had made a video and posted it on the internet. Now the fully sober sons are looking to their parents to get them out of their scrape.

Paul and Claire want to cover up their son’s crime, whereas Stan, surprisingly, talks about holding a press conference at which he announces his withdrawal from the campaign and then standing by their sons as they face justice. Katelyn, who realizes full well she has served as a trophy wife, castigates Stan, reminding him how she had taken over the raising of his son and being the dutiful politician’s wife for years. Paul and Claire are equally as vociferous in condemning any admission of guilt on behalf of their children.

The battle of words rages back and forth over the different courses, as well as in different rooms of the old mansion housing the restaurant. The class prejudice of Stan’s three opponents are revealed in their arguments about sacrificing the future of their sons for the sake of a homeless woman who should not have been in the ATM shelter. We witness the enormous capacity we have of self-deception and the old argument of a good end justifies. At this table we can see Cain justifying his murder of Able; of King David covering up his murder of Urriah; or to jump ahead in history, of President Nixon covering up the Watergate burglary. Will Stan be able to stand up against the onslaught of the three, or will he become like the Roman politician Pilate and cave in to pressure of others?

The film also can be seen as an interesting study of Paul’s character, one shaped by his boyhood in which he always played second fiddle to his brother and regards the world with deep cynicism—indeed as a student of history, he sees the Battle of Gettysburg as a metaphor of the world. A flashback to the brother’s touring the Gettysburg National Military Park, consisting of a montage of shots of the pair and numerous statues (some faces of the combatants in close-up), monuments and graves, is a powerful sequence.

You might have to search for this film on the internet because it played for just a week or two in a Cincinnati art theater before closing. This despite the excellent and well-known cast–Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall,, and an excellent supporting cast. The characters become such toxic examples of what once were called the 1% that this film fare might be indigestible for those who prefer a happy hour film, but nonetheless leaves us with plenty to chew on long after the dishes are cleared away and the screen fades to black.

This review with a set of questions will be in the June 2017 issue of VP.