Friday, November 17, 2023

Notes on Film: My Dinner With Missed Connections

 by Anthony King

Talk to me, Goose.

As I was watching Louis Malle's My Dinner With Andre (1981) for the first time I fought the urge to reach into my television, grab Andre Gregory by the lapels of his cardigan and repeatedly slam his pompous head into his terrine de poissons. At the same time I realized I missed having these sorts of conversations – one-sided as they sometimes were. More in a bit. First, what I've been watching.
My five-year-old son, Rowen, and I were lying around last weekend and I thought I'd try some Wes Anderson out on him. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) is the type of movie that if we had cable and if I were flipping through stations and happened across it, I'd have to stop and finish the movie, no matter how much time remained. I think it's my favorite Wes, although I haven't seen Darjeeling, Budapest, or Asteroid yet, and I really like Bottle Rocket, but FMF (get your minds out of the gutter) is such comforting type of movie it honestly feels like a warm blanket on a chilly fall day. Nobody casts a movie like Wes Anderson and here is no exception. Mr. Charm himself, George Clooney plays the most charming fox that ever existed. Meryl Streep is THE calming voice of reason. Jason Schwartzman is a perfect moody teen. Willem Dafoe, with an unrecognizable voice, is the dirtiest rat guard. Even Wes himself gets in there and plays a real estate agent, showing everyone how exactly to voice the characters that embody his films. It's always a pleaser with me. Rowen, on the other hand, lasted all of ten minutes. His loss.
For the first time in what seems like weeks, Bobbie and I got a date night, so we headed to the theater to see Alexander Payne's The Holdovers (2023). This is my favorite movie of the year so far. As the club president of Sadvember Inc. I'm happy to report we have a new entry in the official Sadvember portfolio. Paul Giamatti plays a strict pud of a teacher called Paul Hunham at a prep school in 1970 Massachusetts. The duty of staying over Christmas break with the unfortunate students who don't get to go home falls upon him, and he makes sure everyone has a miserable time. Eventually all but one of the boys gets to go on a holiday excursion, so an unlikely bond is formed between Paul, the school's cook, Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), and Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), the remaining boy. It may seem overly manufactured to squeeze the feelings out of even the deadest of souls, but boy is it effective. I'm an easy crier in films, so I spent a good portion of this one dabbing my eyes and sniffling. That isn't to say it's all sad and heavy. The Holdovers has possibly THE funniest line of dialogue ever uttered in cinema history. It's beautifully shot, impeccably acted, and the soundtrack is one for the books. Comparisons to Hal Ashby films are spot on. Payne even credits The Last Detail (1973) as one of his main inspirations.
Finally, I rewatched Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) for the first time in a few years. This may very well be my favorite Woody; although I might love Interiors (1978) and Alice (1990) just as much. I can say for sure, though, this is my favorite Woody performance. But, as with any of his films, it's the ensemble that shines. And here we have an ensemble that just keeps growing and growing and growing! We start with Mia Farrow as the titular Hannah, and her two sisters played by Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest. These three women alone are three of my biggest Hollywood crushes. Then there's Lloyd Nolan and Maureen O'Sullivan as their parents. Michael Caine plays a philandering husband. Add to all that bit parts by Daniel Stern, Max von Sydow, Lewis Black, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jiulie Kavner, J.T. Walsh, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, Fred Melamed, and it goes on. Also like many of Woody's films he's working out some not-so-couth thoughts about relationships and family. I know he's a bad man and all, but I just can't quit Woody Allen movies.
Now to the topic at hand. As I was saying before, Andre Gregory plays one of the most insufferable people I've ever seen in a movie in My Dinner With Andre. I understand that's the whole point of the movie. A movie, mind you, many argue to be pointless, uninteresting, and, worst of all, boring. I'll admit, It took a while to slip comfortably into this movie. If someone told me this was the dumbest movie they've ever seen, I'd tell them to see more movies, but that's as far as my argument would go. It ain't for everyone. I love this review from Ben Cheaves: “This is my favorite movie to fall asleep to. An ideal motion picture for a nap on a cold afternoon.” I think that's spot on. It's also a movie, though, that I could get sucked into, deeper and deeper, the more I watch it.

As all good movies do, My Dinner with Andre got me thinking. Just recently my wife and I were talking about all the one-off couples dates we've been on. There's a common denominator here, and it's The Kings. Bobbie thinks it's because we're not good at small talk. I agree, I'm not very good at small talk. I am good at getting to know someone quickly, though. Within two days at my job I knew my manager's work history, musical tastes, how she and her husband got together, favorite movies, details about her kids, and past marriages. Renee and I became fast friends because of that. I'm proud of the way I can do that. I certainly have no ill intent in digging into someone's life like that. I'm genuinely interested, and I generally love most people. Because of COVID many of us fell out of touch with humanity. Some of us still haven't come back, and that's ok. Many people are finally comfortable admitting they don't like being around people, or spending time with many people. I, on the other hand, discovered I LOVE being around people. I LOVE talking to people. I LOVE trying to become someone's new best friend. Because before the pandemic I did NOT love any of those things. I lived my life, happily under a rock, with a very close, very small inner circle. Then the pandemic hit, my alcoholism got way out of control, and I had to reassess life.
As I was watching My Dinner With Andre, I started thinking about how much I miss having deep, intimate conversations with people. Before I quit drinking I could bloviate as well as Andre. I'm looking at the glasses of red wine sitting before Wally and Andre, and I contemplated: is it the alcohol? Bobbie and I have been out with one couple since the pandemic, and that was fairly recently so I haven't given up on a second double date. And, of course, we weren't drinking at that dinner. Plus, it was with a friend I hadn't seen in several years so it was a little awkward and we spent most of the time in that small talk zone, catching up with each other. Is it possible to have a deep and meaningful conversation any more without that liquid courage or the help of a controlled substance? The answer, of course, is yes, duh. And yet...

The question, then, is how. How does one get into a deep and meaningful conversation with another person? While I was doing Cult Movies I had the chance to have a few of these types of conversations. The episode I did with Kevin Maher on It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is one that comes to mind. I think the episode Patrick and I did on Kicking and Screaming two weeks ago is another good example. A follow-up question might be: how do you enter into a deep and meaningful conversation without a leading topic? These are the silliest questions, I realize. I might as well be asking, “How do you be a real human person?” I think a lot of people don't know how to be real human people any more, though. And I think most of them want to be real human people who have real human conversations. Last year I posed a question on Twitter that was meant to be a joke. I'm paraphrasing myself, but it went something like: Would anyone be interested in getting together to discuss a movie but not record it sometime? The responses ranged from, “I don't understand,” to, “Yes, but why not just record it and make it a podcast?” Palm, meet forehead.
I'm trying my hardest to have good conversations with people. Some people just aren't into it, though. Or maybe some people don't know how to. You can only get so much from parasocial relationships through the internet. All this because of a little movie called My Dinner With Andre. Here's the kicker: most of the film is Andre blowing hot air while Wally stares at him incredulously. They don't have a deep or meaningful conversation. Ninety-eight percent of the film is Andre talking AT Wally. It's one long dinner of small talk. Wally's beginning and ending monologues make the movie what it is, though. “Now I'm 36, and all I think about is money... There wasn't a street – there wasn't a building – that wasn't connected to some memory in my mind.”


  1. Andre is a weird movie. As you said, it's basically about nothing, but i was captivated (almost hypnotized) by what was happening on screen

  2. Back in the '90s and 2000's, I watched at large portion of Woody Allen's 1970s and '80s films on Turner Classic Movies. As American filmmakers go, he was among the pantheon of the greats, a real darling of movie critics and fans. The allegations against him, and his own conduct that can be confirmed, have severely damaged that cinematic reputation.

    Having not actively watched his films since the 2000s, I am not sure how I would regard them now. I do not know if any allegations against him would alter my reactions, but I do know that my tastes have changed. And I have, too. (Those are topics you have written about quite a bit.) The films that stayed with me the most over the years are Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, and Radio Days, but that 1970s run (Bananas to Manhattan) is undoubtedly one of the best periods of work for any American director.

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  3. Zelig, you say?

    1. Oh, you already read it. You were one of the readers who originally commented on the piece!