While having dinner at an exclusive upscale restaurant, two couples are attempting to have a very serious discussion about what to do concerning their teenage sons who are involved in a severe situation that isn’t fully revealed until the last course.
That is a very simple description to a much more complicated and weighted story about who we are as individuals through the politics of our parenting, relationships, and the way we treat others outside of both those facets. THE DINNER asks the audience, “How would you respond?”
Details make all the mess more meaningful. As THE DINNER progresses, the story unfolds through flashbacks, marking different points in the people’s lives with a different course in the meal. However the real treat is in the characters. Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) is a glad-handing politician who has initiated the dinner yet is constantly being interrupted by his assistant who is waiting in a private area of the restaurant. Stan’s brother is Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan), a bitter and angry history teacher who is obsessed with the Civil War. Paul wants nothing to do with his brother or the dinner at hand and isn’t afraid to express his negative opinions on everything and everyone. Paul obliges mostly because of his loving wife Claire Lohman (Laura Linney). Supportive and collected, Claire is a cancer survivor who is the backbone for her family. Katelyn Lohman (Rebecca Hall) is Stan’s third wife who has been with him quite sometime. She has taken on his children and his busy life as the appropriate brains and strength within the realm of a politician’s wife.
Based on Herman Koch’s bestselling novel, director Oren Moverman cleverly intertwines THE DINNER to see the dark parallels of our privileged society trying to have very serious conversations with and about those we love contrasted withe the absurd lavishness of fine dining. The actors terrifically portray four very interesting adults with similar agendas yet very different opinions. The question of what’s best for their children, is constantly being muddled with their own selfish and stubborn relationships and desires. To a much lesser extent, their personalities and opinions have a 12 ANGRY MEN quality. The reactions range from denial, supportive, projective and accepting. Clearly they have not always been the best parents, but how can they do the right thing now?
It’s important not to share the details about their teenage sons that correspond and surround the dinner, as I believe the film wants it to be rolled out like a 5-course meal with the craving not to be fully satisfied until the end of the picture. Whether or not that is a smart move or not, I can’t say, but I will respect the filmmaker’s decision here and not divulge what has been in all the synopses that I’ve read.
Unfortunately, THE DINNER spends too much time on the less captivating past and not enough on the actual dinner. The most interesting conversation doesn’t happen until the dessert when it should have been the main course. Ultimately, I liked the idea more than the execution. With that said, I was pleased that at least one parent represented a somewhat reaction of myself. THE DINNER is intentionally awkward and painful, paralleling parenting, politics and war within a family matriarchal and patriarchal hierarchy system. Themes of family, mental illness and life value play against one another in an interesting and appetizing way that left me hungering for more.