Film Review: Dinner in America (NZIFF)

A punk rock comedy drama, Dinner in America‘s cassettes, tape decks, combat boots and bomber jackets, drop us somewhere in the late 80s, with a couple of misfits, struggling to find their place in the world.

Director/Screenplay/Editor:Adam Rehmeier
Starring: Kyle Gallner, Emily Skeggs, Pat Healy, Griffin Gluck, Lea Thompson, Mary Lynn Rajskub

Dinner in America opens in a medical research centre where Simon (played by Kyle Gallner) hopes to make a few bucks as drug test patient and completely fails, being thrown out after not being able to hold the drug down. Simon heads home with another trial patient, Beth (Hannah Marks), at the lure of sexual favours. After an excruciatingly awkward dinner in which the obnoxious family yell racist slurs at the TV, Simon is found in a room preferring Beth’s mom to Beth, and proceeds to trash the house while being chased out the window.

Simon is a rebel pyromaniac on the lam, who meets Patty (Emily Skeggs), another quite different misfit who is drugged to the hilt on pharmaceuticals courtesy of her control freak parents, who works cleaning out cages in a pet store. Although 20, Patty looks 14 and acts like an 8 year old due to her mother’s infantilising, her only independence coming from her obsession with punk rock band Psyops. Patty writes love letters to the bands lead singer whom she fantasies as being her music boyfriend. The pair meet circumstantially in an alleyway at the back of the pet store and proceed to take on the world around them in order to be accepted for themselves.

Unfortunately the film didn’t really find its footing until the last half. I was desperately wanting to give up after the first unnecessary hour of unrelenting yelling and tropes of youth aggression, bullying, misogyny, gaslighting and sexualisation of women, and some shitting in alleys too, why not. The more the film tried to be funny with extreme obnoxiousness the less laughs it held.

Then half way through, the film thankfully changes direction to focus on the budding, although highly improbable, romance between Patty and Simon. Here the film finally humanises both characters with letting some vulnerability in their need for acceptance to show through. Although they do spend a good deal of time driving around what appeared to be the same middle class American suburb, again and again. Emily Skeggs performance as Patty makes the film worth watching, if for nothing else. Emily is exceptional in making Patty the most weird, lovely and endearing character I’ve seen in some time.

Although billed as a punk rock film, the music doesn’t properly kick in until the last 20 minutes in which we get a fantastic dose of metalcore sounding punk. The genuine energy of the final scenes is where the film needed to start off. Patty comes into her own and has me cracking up at the end. And her dancing is total brilliance.

Andy Baker