Melvin Goes to Dinner

Director: Bob Odenkirk

An oft-cited problem of the tendency of new independent films that consist mainly of characters talking for the entire running time is that the dialogue sounds so ridiculous that we can’t fathom rational human beings having conversations even close to the ones depicted onscreen. I agree with this somewhat—on one hand, overly stylized and frankly forced attempts at hipness do bog down dialogue heavy films but on the other hand, when it’s done right, say in the hands of a Mamet, a Linklater or a Tarantino, dialogue that’s not even remotely real yet not surreal is music to our ears and jazz is the oft-cited genre of choice. Conversation that defines character and that transcends the physical action is a true art form and in Bob Odenkirk’s film which was adapted from the play Phyro-Giants by playwright Michael Blieden is a quintessential example of great freewheeling conversational jazz. 2003 Slamdance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize nominee and winner of the Audience Award at South By Southwest, the Boston Independent Film Festival and Best Picture at Avignon/New York Film Festival, Birmingham Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival as well as the Best Picture and Ensemble Acting Award at the Phoenix Film Festival, Melvin Goes to Dinner is one of those rare films like My Dinner With Andre and Before Sunrise that hooks audiences within minutes. Scripter Blieden stars as former medical student Melvin who holds a job dispassionately working as a land surveyor with sister Maura Tierney and at a crossroads not only in his professional life but personal one as well, falling back into a dead-end affair with married Melora Walters and due to his lazy hatred of making plans is without a social outlet until he accidentally finds himself on the phone with old friend Joey (Matt Price) who spontaneously asks him out to dinner. Wanting to put off a family evaluation of his life, Melvin reluctantly attends the dinner as does Alex (Stephanie Courtney) an old business school classmate of Joey’s who in turn stumbles on her old friend Sarah (Annabelle Gurwitch) and brings her along. Soon the unlikely foursome find themselves as the tagline promises discussing infidelity, religion, dreams, ghosts, fetishes, fears and their feeling that things will get worse before they get better in a truly memorable evening where secrets come tumbling out faster than the wine is poured and the relative strangers realize that sometimes it’s easier to unveil shockingly personal revelations to those who know you the least. Fascinating, funny and compulsively addictive with a score by Michael Penn, Melvin Goes to Dinner is a movie best watched alone first to revel in the dialogue and the intricacies of the plot that get revealed late into the picture (including one major and genuine surprise) and then best shared with friends and as evidenced in Melvin, with wine and cuisine. Look for small cameos by director Odenkirk, along with actors David Cross, Jenna Fischer, Jack Black and a hilarious turn by Kathleen Roll as the group’s absentminded unstable waitress.