Sometimes a film meanders into your life and finds a way of igniting your soul, reminding you of the magic of celluloid and how personal nostalgia can be fuelled through even just one scene from a movie. Typically you wouldn’t read my opinions on films that are light-hearted, comedic and have somewhat of a more touching element to them, however, Adam Rehmeier has been a director long on my watch list after his extreme horror experimental movie The Bunny Game came to my attention. After seeing that his latest venture, Dinner in America, was playing at Nightstream Film Festival, it was expected that the audience would receive another controversial and defying film, but what Rehmeier delivers couldn’t be more different. Even though Dinner in America is a change of pace for my preferred viewing habits, it was one that was quickly welcomed and has since become one of my favourite movies to date.
Dinner in America follows punk-rocker, misfit and low-level drug dealer Simon, played by Kyle Gallner, as he roams around town causing fiery destruction, ruining and elevating family dinners and generally not fitting in with the ‘normal’ society that surrounds him. Whilst hiding from the cops who have a bounty out on his head, he encounters Patty, played by Emily Skeggs, who happens to be a nerdy, awkward yet quirky and cute girl that’s just been fired from her job working in a pet store. The two quickly form an unlikely and bizarre duo that leads them on a path of self discovery, friendship, romance and the understanding of what it truly means to be alive when you’re figuring out the world as an adolescent teenager.
From the offset of Dinner in America, there is something that quickly makes you enamoured with the film and determines that this is going to be an unexpected journey, one that is not to be missed. Rehmeier shows his understanding of how to gradually progress through a film with key plot points that really determine the trajectory of the story, however, without ever giving too much away and therefore allowing for twist moments to come along and delight the viewer. It would be suggested to go into Dinner in America without knowing too much about the story and what happens, because it makes for such a wonderful spectacle, with even the smallest scene making all the difference to the overall film. Even though it’s not a film that has huge noticeable moments, it focuses on the small realistic elements that truly make this film feel like a real life coming of age story, which isn’t always easy to do.
Emily Skeggs and Kyle Gallner give two absolutely flawless performances in Dinner in America, and have brought to life their characters Patty and Simon without an ounce of trepidation regarding who they are. Never have I felt so connected to a character like I did with Patty; she encompasses everything I was during those awkward and uncomfortable teenage years when you’re struggling to find who you are, falling in love with boys from bands and getting picked on by boys that want to fuck you. All the whilst trying to deal with the fact that you’re horny as hell, something which makes you feel embarrassed and uncomfortable at the same time. Skeggs immaculately portrays this every girl (Rehmeier’s exact words, which I love) without having to put in too much effort or try to hard, it’s clear to see she fully understands exactly what it’s like to be that kind of teenage girl. Kyle Gallner does an equally incredible job with his depiction of Simon; the punk rock kid that’s misunderstood by everyone, has anger issues, hates the entire world, but secretly has a soft interior that he’s embarrassed to admit exists within him. Simon reminded me of the exact type of boy I was obsessed with as a teen, and was so believable that I could instantly recognise him as many of the sweetheart rockers that I was entangled with when I was younger. The chemistry between Skeggs and Gallner is one of the most astonishing ones that has ever been committed to screen, this alone drives the entirety of the film and immerses the viewer in the relationship that develops between the two, ultimately connecting the viewer with either character and providing a sense of heartfelt emotion and empathy.
The two other key aspects that make Dinner in America so well executed are the humour and the sexuality. Rehmeir places dark humour throughout the script, lacing every scene featuring dysfunctional family dynamics, masculine toxicity, female masturbation and scoial interactions with awkward tension that will have you maniacally laughing. At times the moments between characters are so uncomfortable that you need the release of laughter, and the film always allows you that moment of resolution. Sexuality plays a huge part throughout the film, as to be expected with any come of age film, however, how it’s represented succeeds in every way possible. Virginity isn’t something to be highlighted, instead it’s only touched upon lightly, taking the time to focus on emotional and human connections instead. Sex does feature within the film but it doesn’t feel as though scripted by someone who has no idea about how teenagers communicate and function, which so many other films do. Also, there’s a great representation of female masturbation without it feeling gratuitous, strange or male gaze; in fact it’s completely the opposite and very accurate.
As mentioned, there are some films that completely capture your heart and remind you of everything that makes living in the world worth living. Adam Rehmeier has encapsulated what it feels like to be a misfit, weird teenager trying to navigate through family life, growing up, discovering sexuality and falling in love. This is all done with an incredible soundtrack, including a song that will illuminate your life and remind you why love changes everything. Gallner and Skeggs deliver the most perfect chemistry I’ve seen on screen to date, and allow you to connect with them quickly. Dinner in America is the angsty punk-rock yet sincere coming of age film I didn’t know I needed, and I have a feeling anyone that watches might just feel the same.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Tickets for Dinner in American are still available through Nightstream Film Festival. You can grab yours and watch the film until 14th October 2020.