Dinner In America

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Dinner In America
"Adam Rehmeier's latest film arrives with the anarchic energy of a cherry bomb tossed into the bathroom toilet of Middle America." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Adam Rehmeier's latest film, which aptly shared the Rebels With a Cause award at Tallinn Film Festival this year, arrives with the anarchic energy of a cherry bomb tossed into the bathroom toilet of Middle America. His spiky screenplay has the outsider vibe of the likes of Ghost World and scathingly - and often scatalogically - spotlights family dysfunction while smuggling in a surprisingly soft-centred romance under the radar.

Simon (Kyle Gallner) could be the anti-heroes' anti-hero. He's drooling on a drug trial when we meet him, eating one of the hideous "dinners" that punctuate the plot. Before long, he's kicked off it and mooching a meal Beth (Hannah Marks) who also failed the trial. Over the course of dinner with her family, we'll learn Simon takes no prisoners with his attitude and, when in doubt, has a tendency to burn the whole thing down. Also, suburban homes have a heart of darkness.

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On the run, he is about to need a favour from a young woman he meets by chance. Patty (Emily Skeggs) is a 20-year-old, who still lives at home and is, by turns, belittled and babied by her parents and whose interpersonal clunkiness sees her branded "a retard". She's also just lost her job at the pet store and is wearing a smock that has smears of animal excrement on it which Simon initially mistakes for chocolate ice-cream - it's that kind of film.

She's a sweet kid and he needs to hole up, so it's not long before he's persuaded her to take him home for dinner too. Dinner, as you've probably guessed right now, is another dreadful affair, with Patty's dad little more than a mass of allergies and her brother Kevin (Griffin Gluck) being told repeatedly to "dial it down a notch" this is a study of passive aggressive dysfunction, lent laugh-out-loud absurdity when Simon convinces the family he's a son of a missionary and leads them in prayer.

The plot, for those who need such a thing, also involves a punk gig that Patty has more of a connection to than she initially realises and quite a lot of comeuppance for anyone who has called her a retard. Some of this is a bit convoluted and scrappy, particularly a diner interlude with Simon and other members of his band, which lacks the innate sweetness that Patty brings to the show elsewhere. When the two are together, though, Rehmeier, helped by sparky chemistry from his leads, hits the humour sweet spot perfectly. Simon is incredibly unlikeable at first but, via his interactions with Patty, we begin to see what she does.

There's a reference to Patty taking off her glasses and letting down her hair - surely a deliberate nod to the sort of geek heroines of old - but this is not rehashing some old cliche about her needing to change to fit in, she is a charming, if unusual, punk-spirited force of nature in her own right all along, if anyone changes here, it's Simon. This is the sort of film that gets the little things right, from the production design of Midwest middle-class life to the crazy colour palette of Patty's wardrobe and the thrashing score from John Swihart. When Patty sings: "F*ck 'em all but us." You think, good plan.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2020
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An on-the-lam punk rocker and a young woman he meets by chance embark on an offbeat romance.


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