[Screen It]

"THE DINNER"
(2017) (Steve Coogan, Richard Gere) (R)


Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Two family-related couples must contend with the horrific thing their teenage sons have done.
PLOT:
Stan Lohman (RICHARD GERE) is a congressman who's running for governor of his state, but a new and troubling revelation has put that and his career in jeopardy. While trying to get enough votes to pass a mental illness bill he's sponsoring, he's called for a family meeting between him and his wife, Katelyn (REBECCA HALL), and his high school teacher brother, Paul (STEVE COOGAN), and his wife, Claire (LAURA LINNEY). Paul has long been jealous of Stan, not only from his success, but also what he perceives was favored treatment by their mother growing up, something that likely stems from the mental illness that's affecting his behavior.

That comes to a head when they meet for dinner at a restaurant where the subject of their kids comes up. It seems that after a night of drinking, Stan and Katelyn's kids -- biological son Michael (CHARLIE PLUMMER) who was born to Stan's first wife, Barbara (CHLOE SEVIGNY), and adopted son Beau (MILES J. HARVEY) -- along with Paul and Claire's son -- Rick (SEAMUS DAVEY-FITZPATRICK) -- came across a homeless woman in a bank's ATM lobby room. With no one else around, 16-year-old Michael went from verbally harassing the woman to physically assaulting her, and now Beau is threatening to blackmail him and Rick via video that shows what happened but doesn't identify the perpetrators.

As the night wears on and as we see various flashbacks to that event and other pivotal moments in the characters' lives, the four adults try to come to grips with what's occurred and what the best course of action going forward should be, something that puts them at odds with each other.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Let's face it, teenagers have always and probably will continue to do dumb, ill-advised and dangerous things because, well, that's what people their age are seemingly predisposed to do. While some people will blame that on bad parenting, that's not always the case as brains and morals aren't fully formed yet, and hormones and/or peer pressure are often key instigators for such behavior.

Whatever the cause of what's happened, it's almost guaranteed that parents will get together at some point and share "war stories" about the idiotic things their kids have done and what they did or should do about such behavior.

Such is the case in "The Dinner," the third cinematic adaptation of Herman Koch's 2009 Dutch novel "Het diner." I haven't seen the 2013 Dutch adaptation or the 2014 Italian one, but this American version certainly piqued my interest thanks to the cast that stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall as family-related parents who've found themselves in quite the pickle.

With writer/director Oren Moverman beginning the film with quick views of a high school party with lots of making out and drinking, the viewer -- once the parental titular event is scheduled -- probably imagines some drunken behavior -- unprotected sex leading to pregnancy, or maybe drunk driving -- will be the topic du jour.

We realize, though, that there's more to this than meets the eye. While Linney's Claire Lohman is excited about going to this fancy restaurant, her high school history teacher husband, Paul (Coogan), isn't looking forward to it. In fact, it generally seems he's the kind to dismiss any social event, what with his dim and haughty view of most everyone else.

That includes his brother, Stan (Gere), who's done something to irritate his wife, Katelyn (Hall), what with her flashing him a middle finger salute when he waves while on a call outside the restaurant. We eventually learn he's a congressman who's running for governor of his state, and the matter they're about to discuss is apparently going to have a major impact on that.

With the various parts of the film titled for the various stages of a fancy dinner -- "Aperitif," "Appetizer," "The Main Course," "Cheese Course," "Dessert" and "Digestif" -- the plot moves forward, albeit in a nonlinear fashion that jumps around through time, ranging from ever-increasingly revealing views of the pivotal incident to moments of family strife in the past stemming from a variety of issues.

All of which eventually boils down to what's going to be done, what with the realization that video of the incident has gone online but the identities of the perpetrators have yet to be disclosed. The added monkey wrench is that another family relative -- another teen who hasn't fully thought out what he's doing -- is blackmailing his brother and cousin due to the way his sibling has treated him in the past.

With the use of those flashbacks, there's a lot in play here. But while individual moments have some dramatic and emotional firepower to them, the overall effort ends up feeling a bit disjointed and unfocused. Maybe it's due to having watched Netflix's "House of Cards" and seeing what politicians will do to preserve their careers, but Gere's congressman character, while believably conflicted, isn't powerful to watch as he wrestles with his and his family's dilemma and then comes up with his solution. Linney sort of uncharacteristically turns really mean and uncaring (feeling out of character despite audiences understanding the motivation), but Coogan is good as a mentally ill man and Hall is solid as a second wife who isn't about to throw away everything she's worked for.

So, we're left with a cinematic meal that's tasty in parts, but the overall offering isn't as satisfying as a complete presentation. "The Dinner" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 25, 2017 / Posted May 5, 2017


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