The Dinner

First Hit:  Could have been more interesting and watchable without the distractions.

The previews had led me to believe that this might be a strong film about two estranged couples having dinner resolving an issue involving their sons. However, it seemed to be mostly a deep dive into Paul Lohman’s (Steve Coogan) mental illness and how his family works around it.

Paul and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) are meeting his brother Congressman Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), for dinner at a very exclusive restaurant. Paul does not want to go, and we see him fade in and out of being present with what is going on. He is fascinated with the battle of Gettysburg.

Throughout the film, the director lobs us into Paul's fantasies, his issues with teaching students, and difficulty staying with and on one rational thought and discussion. Not that this wasn’t warranted to understand Paul’s state of mind, but that it did this so much and that the loud distorted sounds used during some of these scenes was difficult on my ears, and very distracting to the story.

All of this gets thrown into this dinner, where Stan gets interrupted by his aid to help get votes on a mental health bill he’s created. Each of the dinner guests, occasionally gets up and leaves the table for 10 or more minutes. The service, although exquisite, gets broken up by the transient way the dinner guests sit and leave. When a conversation starts at the table, it gets railroaded by Stan leaving to deal with a legislative issue, or Paul’s rants, or Claire and Katelyn’s attempts to settle the feuding brothers.

We are given additional hints at Paul's inabilities to deal with life when we learn that Claire had cancer and Paul struggled to visit his wife and take care of their son Michael (Charlie Plummer). Stan and his first wife Barbara (Chloe Sevigny) tried to intervene in Paul’s difficulty but was rebuffed. Stan and Barbara had two kids of their own Rick (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and Beau (Miles J. Harvey) who Barbara and Stan adopted. Despite the broken relationship between Stan and Paul, the boys hung out together.

The subject that finally gets fully aired is that Michael lit a homeless person on fire while Rick watched. Beau threatened to make their murder public which will ruin the boy’s lives and Stan’s run for governor. We learn that Paul was not informed when it happened and he’s upset, Stan wants to turn the boys in and the mothers’ want to keep it quiet because the police have not figured out who was responsible for the death. They hope the event will be forgotten by the public.

As I previously stated, I really disliked the myriad of segues into Paul’s psychosis. I disliked that there was so little direct conversation around the dinner and only when the group goes into a small private room at the restaurant that there was any real discussion. I disliked the sound track of noises during Paul’s altered states.

However, I did like the dialogue that came up around being truthful and paying attention to one's conscious. Additionally, questions about right action and how best to keep family together were also very interesting. Overall, I thought the acting was very strong.

Coogan was amazing in his portrayal of a mentally ill man who could, at times, be very clear and wonderful. Linney was clearly strong as well. Her support and ability to calm Paul down and keep him somewhat present was very good. Gere was excellent as a congressman who also discovered he had to start showing up to his family. Hall was outstanding. Her big scene was telling Stan how she’s the one who has held his family together, raised boys, and showed up for and to him every day, was perfect. Plummer was strong as the boy who’s got struggles and issues needing assistance. Adepero Oduye (as Congressman Lohman’s assistant Nina) was very good in how she kept her cool during the dinner and when pushed by Katelyn. Oren Moverman wrote and directed a convoluted and confusing script and screenplay that overdid the segues into Paul’s neuroses.

Overall:  Although the subjects of family, family history, doing what is right and dealing with mental illness are good subjects, this film meandered and wasn’t clearly focused.