The Dinner Review
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Becoming a parent changes your life forever. Suddenly, you’re responsible for another human being—one who will rely on you, who will push your buttons, who will make you both incredibly proud and extremely nervous. And in The Dinner, two sets of extremely nervous parents struggle to make the right decisions regarding their troubled children.

The Dinner blends politics, parenthood, and psychology together to tell a story of four parents with a serious problem on their hands. Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) has no interest in spending the evening at an exclusive restaurant with his politician brother, Stan (Richard Gere), and his wife, Kate (Rebecca Hall). But Paul’s wife, Claire (Laura Linney), convinces him to go. It soon becomes clear, however, that there’s more to this dinner than a simple family gathering. And, little by little, the story of three teenage boys on an ill-fated night out—and their parents’ plan to protect them—unfolds.

The Dinner is a challenging film, opening with two very different siblings preparing for an awkward family dinner before slowly, carefully peeling back the layers to reveal a much deeper story. There’s a lot at play in this layered drama: sibling rivalry, a political campaign, and the bonds between parents and children.

When the story begins, there’s an air of mystery. Paul is on edge, and it’s clear that he’s concerned about more than just his brother’s wealth and power. As more of the background is revealed, the more troubling the situation becomes. And it often makes for a fascinating conundrum.

At times, though, writer/director Oren Moverman seems to get a little too caught up in his side stories. He puts a lot of focus on Paul’s troubled past—especially on his struggles with mental illness. The film often flashes back to outbursts in the classroom where the once taught, to his personal challenges, and to a painful visit to the battlefields at Gettysburg. And while that helps to develop one of the characters, it tends to feel like a distraction from the main story.

One of the film’s biggest problems, however, is that, while the performances are strong, none of the characters are especially likable—and most of them become even less likable as the story plays out. Paul and Claire’s son, Michael (Charlie Plummer) is an obnoxious, entitled teen. And the more we get to know the adults, the more spoiled and heartless they seem. So while the story may be thought-provoking, the characters make it frustrating.

Perhaps Moverman simply tried too hard to make The Dinner a more powerful film. At its heart is a captivating tale about parents and children and difficult decisions. But it’s filled with so many ideas and conflicts and issues that it ends up feeling somewhat overworked and overstuffed.

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