Dinner in America : ‘Fantasia’ Review – An anarchic and unusual rom-com with a ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ hangover
Dinner in America Movie Review: If you haven’t seen ‘Napoleon Dynamite‘, you wouldn’t be aware of its cult following. The 2004 American comedy about a socially awkward mouth-breather has since become an iconic do-over for geeks in indie films. So, when you first meet Patty (Emily Skeggs) her peculiar and weird antiques might make you cringe. Since she is the but-of-joke for idiocentric jocks who are always busy bullying her, you want her to come out on top. So when she strikes up a strange bond with Simon (Kyle Gallner) – An anarchic teenager dissing and burning shit up, you feel like your wishes will be fulfilled sooner than later. While this takes away much of the unpredictability that the first 20-odd minutes set up, it’s a welcome change to finally learn that anyone can be Punk AF!
Dinner in America opens with Simon trying his best to have lunch at a restricted facility. He has signed into this strange place as one of their many ginny pigs in order to make some extra dough. Sadly, the experimental drug doesn’t work and Simon is let off with Beth (Hannah Marks). As angry as he has been, letting go of the shortened cash makes Simon madder. He decides to follow up on Beth’s offer for a family dinner and a clearly visible sexual favor. This point punctuates one of the many dinner sequences in the film. The first of them turns into a total fiasco when Simon is seduced by Beth’s mom. The consequences are dire and the dinner ends with destruction and burning (quite literally). If by this point you establish Simon as a rebellious asshole I wouldn’t ask you to recheck.
Related to Dinner in America – Lapsis : ‘Fantasia’ Review – An intelligent satire on Corporate Greed & the didactic allure of Capitalism
Simon’s rebellious, offensive and angry persona feels like a direct mix of any Greg Araki film and JGL’s brilliant turn in Spencer Susser’s ‘Hesher.’ The mohawk and cigarettes are a way to hide the inspirations but for someone who has been watching films for a long time, the basics will be pretty obvious. However, that doesn’t take away anything from Simon’s character who, in spite of a very shaky moral compass finds a redemptive arc in Skeggs’s Patty. The pill-popping, dialed-down geek is secretly a fan of punk-rock. She takes out her family’s overbearing presence and being called a ‘retard’ by blowing up some punk rock in her own room. Little does she know that she is soon to meet her ‘fantasy-man’ she secretly masturbates and rocks out to.
Simon is being chased down by cops for peddling drugs and vandalism. But unlike all the other teenagers of his age, he seems to have a clear insight with an anarchic rage inside. He is the hidden voice of Psyops – A punk rock band that Patty is in complete love with. However, he is a difficult person. He is almost always rebelling against everything and everyone. An issue that could put off many viewers is his slight homophobic slurs. Those are the ones that could set off even the most patient sinners. But director Adam Carter Rehmeier ensures that these issues are quickly resolved so as to not lose any more viewers that might have left out in the opening section of the film.
Dinner in America is essentially a coming-of-age tale that is trying to showcase the fakeness of American families and their oversight to hide their shortcomings by aggressive, over-the-top behavior. Set in a pre-social-media era – the absence of cellphones and inclination towards cassettes and punk rock being clear indicators, the film plods the dinner scenes as the only possible place where the family comes out with all their issues at once. For teenagers who are still trying to understand themselves, their dreams, and what is their place in this chaotic world, the uncharted questions from the elders are frustrating. So much so, that they either drown themselves in some kind of vice or rock-it-out of them.
Other elements of the film almost always have a familiar beat. The anarchic tendencies of Simon can be seen through a clear disappointment in his family. The shy Patty is often too slow to process things around her. Her family is extremely clueless about what they should do except maybe drool her with drugs and put restrictions on what she can do and not do. The two people at the center of the film are misfits in their own personal accords. However, a relation between the two seems highly unlikely. This is where director Adam Carter Rehmeier excels. He makes us believe in both of them and their shared experience together.
The two misfits find a way to understanding each other and the reasons behind their actions. The film, on the other hand slowly charms its way into your heart and helps you revel in its unusual romance. I am not certain if it really wanted to do it but the musical number used towards the end of the film will win your heart over even if you don’t like either of the characters up until then. Much of its audacious efforts to revitalize genre-troops works while some don’t. There’s a forced effort to break conventions occasionally and sometimes it doesn’t land the kind of impact the film was looking for.
Dinner in America is a difficult film to like. However, Kyle Gallner’s incredible turn as Simon is ruthless, inventive and above all grounded in reality in spite of the characteristic tics. If not for anything else, watch it for Gallner.