My Dinner With André is a 1981 film starring and written by André Gregory and Wallace Shawn. Directed by Louis Malle, the movie showcases a conversation that takes place between André and Wally, where the duo confront the stark reality of the “modern” human existence, technology, comfort, life, death and all the high-brow topics that interest the artistic minds of early 1980s Theatre aficionados.
You’ll notice that earlier I capitalized the “T” in “Theatre”. This is because it is clear when Wally and André speak, that they too are capitalizing the “T” whenever they say the word. I’ll also be sure to include l’accent aigu whenever spelling André.
Simultaneously hoity and toity, this movie yammers on endlessly with high and mighty ideas of why society is irredeemable, and how every one around them in the circles they occupy never really live, or truly “see” anyone or anything. The result is a movie that is clearly not in any way shape or form meant for me.
This movie is about a conversation, and that’s what meant to draw us in. Wally begins with a voice over telling us how concerned he has become about money, and that he is currently apprehensive about meeting André, a friend he’s been avoiding because he’s heard through the grapevine that in recent years André has pretty much gone off his rocker. For the first act of the movie, the driving force is André, recounting his crazy exploits overseas. Workshops, sit-ins, japanese monks, and a philosophy that supposedly goes against the grain of any “modern” thinker. André has been living, the western world has been dying. Over the course of the movie, Wally’s interest increases, until a point when he is actually engaged, and begins to share himself. Wally admits to agreeing with many things André has to say, and disagreeing strongly with others. They eventually come to a mutual understanding of sorts, all of life’s questions have been answered, while simultaneously being left unanswered, and Wally goes home almost content with his existence.
What we get here is a two hour indulgence of the ideas of André. He thinks we’ve stopped living. He thinks our society has become too self indulgent. We’re too comfortable, too busy in our routines, to really see what the world looks like. We’re all zombies kowtowing to our creature comforts, while feigning happiness and ignoring the sadness all around us. He goes on like this, throwing in what are supposed to be the fascinating anecdotes that lead him to these conclusions on his voyages.
In my case, I was sitting listening to this old-new-age bullshit, thinking it would never end, while Wally sat patiently smiling, nodding, and seeming transfixed. When Wally finally does open up, we discover that he’s been thinking similarly himself. André is full of shit. Wally is, apparently, not ashamed to admit that he likes our current state of un-living. He enjoys his electric blanket, and does not wish it away in the least. If anything, he’d enjoy more comforts in life, and less chaos. This is about when André jumps up, stabs him in the fucking throat with his fork and walks away, dabbing the blood off his cheek with a napkin.
Then I woke up, and realized they were still just talking. They order their desserts, continue to chat about their non-solutions, and go their separate ways.
You’ll notice I’m only discussing my reaction to the characters’ ideas. That’s because this film offers little else. There are about 4 different shots, and a couple of slow zooms into André when things get really serious. The dialogue itself is delivered like a stage play, fast and chunky, with pauses that feel oddly timed to a modern movie-goer. If you’re interested in what’s being said, then you might find the movie as engaging as Wally clearly finds André to be. If you’re not, just shut off the movie. There’s nothing else here for you, unless you’re a Community fan. If you are, don’t forget to look at my Community Reference Review below.
As much as I hated sitting through this movie, there were things about it that I did enjoy. There was discovering during the opening credits that The Princess Bride‘s Vizzini was one of the stars of the movie. There was the brief satisfaction, after almost 90 minutes, of him using the word “inconceivable.” There were moments of him fast talking and stuttering which reminded me of Vizzini, and how much I should have watched The Princess Bride instead.
It’s not that I’m not a fan of dialogue in movies. I love a lot of Tarantino stuff, and I’ve been known to enjoy movies that are considered “cerebral” on occasion. The thing is, they usually need something else. They need to be funny, or sexy, or violent, or… something… somewhere… in order to engage me. I’ve heard André’s long diatribes in films many, many times before in movies that have come since. I like to call it the “Fuckin’ Log Cabin” speech, after Brad Pitt’s reaction to it in Seven. (Brad Pitt, incidentally, is involved, on one side or another, in three different versions of this speech in 12 Monkeys, Seven and Fight Club). Of course, it’s probably ironic that I’m not interested in this “deep conversation” because it’s not more visceral. I wouldn’t know. I’m just a caveman. Your deep meanings and literary definitions confuse and frighten me.
If you’re going to base a movie about a conversation, at the very least, I need to agree with the opinion being expressed. Neither Vizzini, nor the warden from Demolition Man said anything that I felt I could truly identify or agree with. Even the thing they agree on–that the world is fucked because we’re all hooked on, and ruled by, technolog–seems odd today. Remember, this is 1981. They don’t know what ruled by technology looks like. How would these characters react to today’s world? It leaves a “I walked to school, uphill, both ways!” taste in my mouth.
I understand that I’m not the target audience for this movie. I understand that there is a whole set of people out there that have eaten this piece of shit up with a spoon. I’m not one of them. I don’t want to, nor do I think we should, all live in a fucking log cabin. If I were to go on a retreat and someone started burying me alive, I would probably hit them in their fucking face with a shovel. I don’t need some kind of wilderness dance to realize that fake people suck, and we probably only have this one shot at enjoying ourselves. I certainly don’t need 2 hours of being told “The world sucks, and I guess I don’t know how to fix it.”
Community Reference Review: If you know me, or have been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know I love NBC’s Community. If you’ve watched Community, you’ll know why I chose to watch this movie. If you don’t watch Community, knowing why I chose to watch this movie will, potentially, completely spoil one of the most ingenious episodes of the series that you definitely should be watching.
As it turns out, Community‘s reputation of spot on parody is untarnished, and I have an even greater appreciation for the skills of Danny Pudi to imitate any actor in existence. If you’ve seen the required episode of Community, I highly recommend watching the opening 15-20 minutes of this movie, so that you may also gain further appreciation of the show, and Mr. Pudi’s skills. If you invest that much time and find yourself enjoying the movie, feel free to sit through the rest of it, though it’s not needed to gain any more appreciation. The waiter doesn’t do anything interesting, as you might be expecting.