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FILM REVIEW: Dinner in America

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Adam Carter Rehmeier

Combining elements from both gross out comedies and romcoms, this sweary Ben Stiller-produced movie features drooling teenagers, toilet gags and dead cats alongside a rather sweet relationship between firestarter Simon and damp squib Patty. It’s hard to resist, and its punk-lite stance is warm natured as well as hot-mouthed.

Eager for cash Simon has offered his services as a guinea pig trialling drugs for a local pharmaceutical company in some nameless town in America’s Midwest. He can’t keep down the meds and so he quits, forfeiting his payment. He now needs somewhere to stay, and after burning down the first house he stays he, the cops are after him too.

Patty works in the local pet store, cleaning out the cages. She strikes a lonely figure, with the resident sports jocks calling her names like ‘retard’ on the bus. She hasn’t got the knowhow to retaliate or stand up for herself. Her only pleasure is dancing energetically to tapes of her favourite punk band, Psy Ops.

When Patty witnesses Simon running away from the police, she takes him home to her parents and although he swears and smokes they soon believe his cock-and-bull story about him being the son of missionaries working in Tanzania. They invite him to stay, and it seems that an unlikely romance may blossom between Patty and Simon.

Of course, there is a little discomfit in that all Patty needs to help her find her true potential is assistance from a man, but Simon is no Henry Higgins, and his methods in teaching her how to get along in life are not from the usual text books. And the relationship between the two seems real, helped by the two actors who work well together.

At first, it seems that Kyle Gallner’s Simon will have no redeeming features and that rather than being punk, he’s just a common thug making a living from low-level drug dealing. But Gallner is able to demonstrate his punk politics with a certain amount of charm without having to resort to the ‘misunderstood’ kid trope. There’s a twist about 45 minutes into the film, and Gallner manages it easily, without having to reposition his character at all

Emily Skeggs is equally as charismatic as Patty, and gives a performance that is more complex than the usual run-of-the-mill kooky, and her naiveté is matched with some surprising acts of self-sufficiency. At first she’s content to just be a witness to Simon’s acts of revenge, but it’s cheering when she becomes an active accomplice. It’s almost a punk Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s also good work from Griffin Gluck, as Patty’s hostile brother and some fine comedy from Pat Healy and Mary Lynn Rajskub as her parents. The film’s name is also the title of one of Psy Ops’s songs, and the film contains at least three family dinners all ruined by arguments. And perhaps this is what the film is fighting against – the inherent conservatism contained in these family gatherings, another way of keeping people tied to prescribed roles. For all his F-bombs, Simon offers a way out of that life, but, of course, it’s only radical in a Hollywood kind of way – so not radical at all, really

Dinner in America is not as subversive as it thinks it is, but it’s a well-structured coming-of-age story and is accompanied by some stonking music. Written and directed with vigour by Adam Carter Rehmeier, this movie has missed the reopening of cinemas and comes straight to Digital Download. Home cinema is fine, but there is an epic quality about Dinner in America that deserves the big screen.

Released on Digital Download in 1 June 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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