Dinner in America – Blu-Ray Review

Dinner in America is the new film from director Adam Rehmeier, whose previous feature, The Bunny Game, had the rare honour (or perhaps dishonour) of being flat-out BANNED by the BBFC. They claimed that issuing the film a certificate “would be inconsistent with the Guidelines, would risk potential harm within the terms of the Video Recordings Act, and would accordingly be unacceptable to the public.” Only two films have been refused a certificate since 2013’s Hate Crime and 1977 film The Gestapos Last Orgy, which was set to have a Blu-Ray release from 88 Films. I haven’t seen The Bunny Game, but Dinner in America is undoubtedly a much more light-hearted affair. 

Kyle Gallner plays punk rocker Simon, who is on the run after some good old arson. He crosses paths with Patty (Emily Skeggs), who is like a cross between Dawn Weiner from Welcome to the Dollhouse and a decidedly uncool Enid from Ghost World. She gets called “retard” regularly, but has a total hard-on for punk rock and especially for John Q Public, the mysterious balaclava-wearing singer of the local band Psy-Ops. They end up on wild adventure through Detroit, and as the song they write together goes: “Fuck the rest of ’em, fuck ’em all, fuck ’em all but us.” 

The film is a little tonally challenged, and starts off being somewhat edgy just for sake of being edgy. Both of those are things I don’t have any huge issue with. Dinner in America really comes into its own when the romance between the two outcasts blossoms and you really start to like these two characters. By the time they write “Watermelon Song” together, you are won over, even if the film up to that point wasn’t always smooth sailing. 

The performances from the two leads are great, but the real standout is Skeggs, who was in her late 20s when they shot the film (she just turned 31)—you wouldn’t believe it from her insanely awkward but loveable performance. It’s the lifeblood of the film, and despite Gallner also giving an excellent performance as Simon, it’s really Skeggs’ film by the end. There have been comparisons to Heathers, but I don’t really see it besides the fact they are outcasts and Gallner is slightly violent. Heathers is a much more savagely satirical film with a very surrealist bent. The dynamic between the two is just totally different from Veronica and J.D. as well. 

Dinner in America may not be an instant indie classic, but it does feel like it comes from a time when American independent cinema had balls and didn’t just make safe movies to maybe get an Oscar nomination. Perhaps the film’s biggest flaw is that if it wasn’t for a reference to cell phones, they could’ve just set it in the ’80s and made it a period piece. Anyway, the world needs more quirky punk rock love stories on film, and you have a mighty fine one here. 

The disc includes an audio commentary with director Adam Rehmeier, producers David Hunter and Ross Putnam, and lead actors Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs. Other extras include two live-streamed Q&As from the 2020 Fantasia fest and the 2021 Pendance film festival. The trailer and image gallery finish off the disc. The first pressing includes a booklet with a essay from Michelle Swopes.  

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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