Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dinner with (odd) friends

You know, I've really been kind of slumming it with my film choices lately. There's nothing wrong with the movies I've reviewed thus far, but they don't really have the "film-snob" appeal that I intend to radiate from this blog. So, in the interests of raising the pretentiousness level in these here parts, I offer the following Movie I've Watched Recently: Melvin Goes To Dinner. It's directed by Bob Odenkirk, half of Mr. Show, which is a good sign right off the bat. I loved Mr. Show, so I was looking forward to seeing what kind of film he would craft. Also, to raise the prestige of the project, it's based on an L.A. stageplay, and reunites the four leads from the production.

Melvin (the man, not the movie) is your basic indie movie oddball. He's antisocial but intensely verbal, he hates his job, and he's dating a woman his sister refers to as "poison". After accidentally calling an old friend he hasn't seen in months, he agrees to meet up with him for dinner that night. The basic structure of the movie is the dinner, as Melvin and his friend, along with two women who join them, talk their way through countless bottles of wine.

One problem I often have with "filmed plays" is that the dialogue can easily seem a bit (for want of a better word) staged. Melvin, however, quickly pulls you in past any artificiality with the great writing, and genuinely comfortable pace of dialogue. You don't get the sense that the actors have read their lines hundreds, even thousands of times before. There's an immediacy to the dialogue, like the participants are really listening to who's speaking, and honestly reacting to what is said.

The change from stage play to film, however, has allowed for the insertion of various flashback sequences throughout the film. I realize these were probably necessary from the perspective of "opening up the play", but I often found myself a little bored during these segments. The actors have such great energy during the conversation sections of the movie, that any cutting away from the dinner party was disappointing. These four actors were clearly comfortable with the material. Their deliveries and cadences mixed well, and the interplay between actors was a lot of fun to watch. The topics of discussion spanned all the typical "dinner with wine" conversations: relationships, religion, sex, etc., but the give-and-take of the characters made the dialogue crackle. I found myself siding with one character over another, then changing my mind after hearing a bit more of the conversation. That's actually a bit weird, now that I think of it. But that's my problem, not the movie's.

The great thing about this movie is how true to actual dinner parties it seemed to me. Just like in real life, the characters were at times interesting, flirty, dull, and obnoxious. It's damn near impossible to be in top form through an entire multi-hour conversation, and these people are no exception. They all had quirks and imperfections, which were slowly revealed over the course of the film. While some of the "plot developments" (such as they are) are a little over-the-top with coincidences, this movie never concerns itself too much with plot. Melvin is about conversation and debate, and the filmmakers were never confused about this point.

It's a short film, only about 83 minutes long, but it's really nice to sit down and watch a movie without having to pack a change of clothes (I'm looking at you, Troy). The movie would lose some steam if it went on too long. As it is, Melvin stayed sharp throughout, and left me actually wishing it had been a little longer. I can't remember the last time I felt like that.

There's also a dynamite uncredited cameo from Jack Black. A lot of people are sick of JB, now that he's all over the place, but not me! And while I can see how some might find his constant peak level of manic energy a little grating, he's put to effective use here, showing up for a few minutes to inject a little spice into the proceedings. Tam hates Jack Black. But (luckily) she was working while I watched this movie, so she escaped exposure to the "sweaty little man" that she finds so unappealing.

You know, I'm going to have to write something soon that involves an actor that Tam actually likes, otherwise people are going to start thinking that she's some kind of film-hating culturephobe. I just haven't seen any really good Antonio Banderas films lately (kidding, kidding!).

Melvin does make one major misstep, however. There's one character in the movie that feels like she was imported from another, much worse, movie. The waitress at the restaurant behaves like she's in a bad sketch from Saturday Night Live (the Anthony Michael Hall period, even!). I cringed everytime she walked up to the table. Apparently she is not the actress who played the role during the play's run, so maybe she was a little unclear on the intent of the piece. Regardless, she was jarring and out of place.

However, she's in very little of the movie, and if that's the harshest criticism I can find, then you'll be wanting to have dinner with Melvin real soon! That's terrible, I just did that to see if anyone was actually still reading. I apologize. It showed contempt for my audience, and for that, I'm sorry.

Oh, the other dude in the movie looks like Tobey Maguire's chubby older brother, so if that kind of thing interests you, it's just one more reason to check out this movie.


Blogger Scott M said...

This sounds like a pretty interesting flick - at least it's different. My local video store normally stocks just about every indie movie out there - but I don't recall seeing this one. I'll try to track it down. That being said, I go to enough dinners where people just go on and on about the minutae in their lives, so I'm not sure I need a movie about it. Definitely a 'when I'm in the right mood' pick.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Jhunt said...

Absolutely wait until you feel like it. I procrastinated for over two months before watching this movie, for that exact reason. And I still haven't watched Before Sunset, despite absolutely loving Before Sunrise, because I want to be fully engrossed when I finally do watch it.

No point in putting on Lost in Translation when you really feel like watching Die Hard (and vice-versa).

1:51 PM  

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