The Dinner Game

Director: Francis Veber

“When you put a cat and a dog in the same bag and they end up friends, I like that very much.”
—Writer/Director Francis Veber as noted by New York Times writer Janet Maslin in a quotation from the LA Times

According to IMDB, before earning a Cesar Award for his performance as Francois Pignon (the recurring name given to fools in Veber’s work), the clueless, blundering but well-meaning and oddly lovable idiot, actor Jacques Villeret had portrayed him more than six hundred times in Veber’s play before it was transferred to film five years later.

Although the film is slated for a Dreamworks remake starring the star of Borat, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll be able to deftly capture the same delicate balance of comedy, drama and pathos as evidenced in this French comedy that at times, feels like a British stage farce.

While some stayed away from the richly comical Lionsgate picture due to its admittedly cruel set-up which has yuppie publisher Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) and his friends holding a weekly Wednesday dinner game where each are responsible for bringing their very own idiot and later, amongst themselves decide who had the “world champion” and is declared the winner, it’s not too far into the film before we realize that the tables will be turned on this wicked, smug, and privileged man.

After throwing his back out, Brochant’s night is topped off by his wife’s sudden announcement that she is leaving him and before he can reach Pignon to cancel, the IRS taxman, tricked into attending under the guise that Brochant intends to publish a book highlighting his hobby of replicating famous landmarks by way of intricate and time-consuming matchstick models, shows up at the apartment.

It’s not too long before Pignon, thinking he is helping his new “friend” deal with trying to get his wife back and cope with the physical agony of a spinal injury, manages to make an even grander mess of the entire situation with some wild and jaw-dropping funny bits of mistaken identity and phone calls that go horribly wrong. The mean-spirited premise is quickly overruled by comedy and the type of intriguing buddy comedy that John Hughes mastered with works like Planes, Trains and Automobiles which finds that the wealthy man who thinks he knew exactly how to live his life and felt superior to anyone in the least bit different than he is actually quite a dullard compared to the men he deems “idiots” and Pignon remains the most fascinating character in the piece.

Painful during the first viewing, like great uncomfortable comedy (similar to the type of humor in Meet the Parents or NBC’s The Office), it gets even more deliciously funny as we are able to fully appreciate the complexity without squirming as much on a second viewing. Highly recommended film that flies by in its eighty two minute running time—ordinarily, I’d say it’s a great one to share with friends, however, given the plot, they may wonder why you’re inviting them over for such an “impromptu” engagement.

Francis Veber