Fantasia: Dinner in America Provokes, Then Stumbles
Watching Dinner in America is like holding a cuddly kitten in one arm, while someone you barely know rubs your other arm with glass-embedded sandpaper. Every time the kitten nuzzles into the crook of your elbow, you notice a new cut opening up, a new stream of blood running from funny bone to fingertip.
Writer-director Adam Rehmeier wants to explore the black beating heart of America through its antiseptic family dinners. Following the unlikely relationship between a punk-rock arsonist and a slightly simple-minded pet store clerk, Dinner in America wraps its squishy heart in a manufactured fuck-you attitude. From its first second, the film wants you to feel uncomfortable – or else it wants you to think that it wants you to feel uncomfortable. In a hectic opening 10 minutes, Rehmeier and his crew weaponize quick edits, visceral sounds, and a hatred for authority and conformity from art and artist alike, knocking us back on our heels and making us consider a quick exit from their film.
As it settles in, though, Dinner in America’s provocations fold in on themselves. The tough guy anti-hero, Simon (Kyle Gallner), is aghast that a suburban goody two-shoes could love the music he makes as the masked front-man of a local punk group. Later, Simon steps to the pair of tracksuit-adorned jocks who have been bullying Patty (Emily Skeggs) – only to get summarily knocked to the ground by the candy-ass targets of the movie’s scorn. In short, Rehmeier’s sharp lens swivels 180 degrees, from the norm-core families who prioritize appearances to the provocateurs who rebel for the sake of rebelling, who shun appearances just to shun.
For much of its runtime, the movie’s ideology reminds me of a quote from the first episode of Community: “You lose the jacket to please them, you keep it to piss them off. Either way... its for them." There’s a moment, late in the film, where Kyle and Patty join forces to gain a particularly perverse revenge on two of their so-called enemies.
“That was just like TV!” screams Patty. “Fuck TV,” Kyle responds. “That was some raw-ass shit.”
It was both; it was neither; it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t for themselves. It was for their image.
As it tries to stuff this satire into the package of an unlikely love story, Dinner in America slips. It indulges in cringe-worthy moments on both ends of the spectrum: battering Patty’s lack of mental acuity for humor on one hand, and trying to get away with the cliché-ridden “guy discovers girl’s secret talent and gives her the life she never could have had alone” sub-plot. Its final 20 minutes betray the self-awareness that permeated its middle. As it strays from the three centerpiece family dinners that give it its title, Dinner in America eats itself alive.