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Movie Reviews

The Dinner Game  

An interesting fact about the movie The Dinner Game is that it is one of the top box office hits of all time in France. While people here in Canada seem to avoid our own movies like the plague, except that year when Porky`s came out, of course, France seems to have had much success. Certainly, the French film industry is obviously comfortable enough with itself that it is able to get away with putting out what is nothing more than a clever sitcom, and the French people are obviously supportive enough of their cinema to actually go see this film.

Yes, this film is fluff, but it is fairly entertaining fluff, and at only 80 minutes, very tolerable. I`m lucky for that, because I felt a bit misled by this film. I was under the uninformed impression that The Dinner Game was going to be some sort of satire on class relations! Why, you may ask? Because of the film`s bizarre premise: a bunch of high-class snobs have a dinner party every week, where the guests invite 'idiots' whose eccentricities are laid bare to the expectant crowd. The goal, of course, is to bring the best idiot. So, of course, I thought that the idiots were really just the lower classes, and that the rich people were making fun of them. But that is not really the aim of this film. This is nothing much more than a French version of all those comedies in which a mis-matched pair get themselves in numerous bouts of trouble, generally can`t stand each other, and then suddenly make up at the end just in time for the credits to roll. But, luckily, this film is nowhere near as, well, idiotic as the others.

As the film opens, a young, arrogant rich guy is nervous over not finding his idiot yet. He is so concerned that he tries to get a friend to find one for him. This scene also includes a very intriguing moment in which he even attempts to get his friend`s own father to be the idiot, once he discovers his hobby. Luckily, the friend finds an idiot, and the world champion of idiots, to be exact, a man whose greatest achievement is being able to construct the world`s great architectural marvels with matchsticks. He is so passionate about this hobby that he gets into a very detailed description of the painstaking construction to the man`s friend. This guy will knock everybody`s socks off, not a doubt!!

But things do not go as planned. The young man suddenly puts out his back, and his doctor insists that he miss the party. He can`t do this! He has the world champion with him tonight! The man does arrive at his house, however, and after a long conversation, the young man does not care about his bad back, and prepare themselves to leave. But suddenly he gets a call on his answering machine from his wife. She is leaving him because, essentially, he is nothing but an arrogant swine, which is clear to every viewer, I believe. The rest of the movie consists of the young man`s attempts to get his wife back, and the "idiot's" bungling of all these attempts. Almost every scene takes place on this one set, and feels almost like a filmed play.

The humour in this film is basically of both the slapstick and the idiot variety. This material would work well in any American comedy, but what`s interesting is that this film doesn`t go over the top too much. All of the actors are genuinely believable, and many of the situations take on a logic of their own. In many cases, the chaos comes from making one tiny little mistake, from becoming just a little bit distracted, until everything snowballs into sometimes embarrassing predicaments. The guest is a complete bundle of nerves, especially on the telephone, where he makes some extraordinary blunders, and makes even more while trying to repair them. I really ought not to give away too much of the humour, but I can give you a few high point for you to look out for. There`s the scene in which the guest is told to phone the young man`s doctor, but, unknowingly, accidently calls the young man`s mistress, only to tell her his wife has just left him. There`s the moment when the young man attempts to explain to the guest the name of his wife`s former lover. And, later on, when the guest`s friend, a tax inspector, enters the house, while the young man despreately attempts to hide all of his valuables. This sequence ends surprisingly, for the taxman. And there is lots, lots more!

I didn`t laugh out loud too often during this film. The humour simmers rather than boils, but I never felt the need to cringe at any of the scenes, and it was generally a pleasant comedy. I was also happy that The Dinner Game did not wallow in sap and sentiment, which is a common occurrence in some of the worst American comedies. In this case, just as the climax came dangerously close to entering that well-worn area, the director did not attempt to pad the scene with teary score music, or false emotion. All he puts in is a quick lesson in empathy, and he leaves it at that. That kind act of directorial mercy is almost enough to recommend this film all by itself, while the restrained yet amusing antics are enough to completly recommend it.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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