Starring Steve Coogan. Rated 14A
Despite the presence of numerous seemingly foolproof ingredients, almost everything that can go wrong does go wrong in this Dinner from cinematic hell. The main draw is the cast, centring on Steve Coogan, channelling Woody Allen as Paul Lohman, an American public-school teacher with a long-suffering wife (Laura Linney) and an older brother (Richard Gere) he has spent his whole life resenting. The silver-fox bro is a powerful congressman, apparently getting ready to run for governor of an unspecified state.
Stan is on his second, sleeker wife, Anna (Rebecca Hall, also using a Yank accent), and she initially seems to be the most stable of the foursome meeting for that titular repast, at the kind of upscale restaurant where a politician is treated with discretion and gets an advanced course in imported cheese.
For his part, Paul takes one glance at the wine prices and declares the list “an act of war”. Of course, he considers himself a full-time combatant “working idealistically for the underclass”, even if he seems to have some enduring problem with Stan’s adopted son, who happens to be black. He’s also gone off his meds. We know all this from flashbacks, sprinkled rather awkwardly throughout the two-hour tale, displaying the dynamics with Stan’s starter wife (Chloë Sevigny) and showing more recent events with all their sons, now teenagers, engaging in a horrific act that is the presumed cause of a get-together that any sane people would want to hold in private.
Despite its playlike structure, this is the third film adaptation of a 2009 novel by Dutch writer Herman Koch, who notoriously walked out of its Berlin premiere earlier this year, declaring this version “the worst by far”. That makes sense, considering the needlessly jumbled chronology, self-consciously hip score, abrupt tonal changes, and extraneous commentary on American racism and violence slathered on by screenwriter-director Oren Moverman.
It’s easy to understand why this cast was attracted to such showy roles, but harder to imagine what performer, or director, could get something serious out of a line like “Families are supposed to work together—to bury the ugly stuff.” If only some blood relatives had heeded that advice.