My Dinner with Andre (1981) (PG)

A film about conversation, perception, friends, love, life, happiness, resignation, and everything in between "My Dinner with Andre" is an odd piece of film. It's remarkably perceptive and filled with the most frustrating and illuminating self-referencial comments that make the viewer feel slightly stupid. Without a pad and pen, it's impossible to follow the movie completely, which is further enraging because most of the movie takes place around a dinner table.
Wallace Shawn, playing a version of himself, narrates the movie as he walks towards a restaurant to meet his old friend Andre Gregory (also playing himself). It has been many years since they have seen each other, and Wallace isn't that ecstatic about the meeting. He always feels uncomfortable in situations like this. When he gets to the restaurant, Andre isn't there, and Wallace gives us some sarcastic commentary about why that may be. Andre shows up and then there's a lot of talking between the two of them....a lot of talking.
Most of the dialogue is provided by Andre who has just returned from a spiritual journey over seas. He has to most ludicrous, the most exciting, and the most ridiculous stories that come across as nothing beneath pretentious. He talks about his surrealist experience with a surrealist magazine and how one page had four handprints on it. He talks about leading people who didn't speak English in the purest form of improvisations.
And above all this, the two of them have dinner together. Besides the fact that I don't think they got what they actually ordered and they rarely actually put the food in their mouth, "My Dinner with Andre" is fascinating and almost faultless. It's a movie that works because of the strength of its two stars.
You get the feeling that the entire movie is made up until about twenty minutes before it ends, when Andre and Wallace have a discussion about perception. Did they actually write a script for this movie? If so, it is even more brilliant because it shows the dedication of two friends in creating a movie.
"My Dinner with Andre" provides us with a play-like structure and that is fine. In fact, that makes sense because Wallace is a playwright and is always asking about how literature or the theater could influence people.
There is a great rift between the viewer and the characters. We are not privy to jump into the conversation and join them, which would seem like more fun. But then again, maybe the point of the movie is to remind us that we glean more from listening rather than talking. It would certainly seem that every character who does not speak learns more. Yet again, I contradict myself here because by the time the two part, they are still set in their ways, but perhaps they are a little wiser...perhaps.
"My Dinner with Andre" serves as a mental exercise more than anything. As on-topic as Wallace and Andre manage to stay, it's hard to keep up with the fast pace of the movie. In that way, it really mimics a genuine conversation well.
While it might not be the most entertaining thing in the world, it is more entertaining than it sounds on paper. It is shot with simple angles and what appears to be multiple lenses simultaneously, to better imprison the atmosphere.
It's an experiment and a damn good one at that.

Score: ★★★½

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