This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, Rebecca Hall

Director: Oren Moverman

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for Children Getting Up to No Good and Their Parents Yelling About It

Release Date: May 5, 2017 (Limited)

Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Richard Gere, and Rebecca Hall invite you to a very special evening. Coogan and his wife Linney are on their way to meet Coogan’s brother Gere and his wife Hall at the fanciest restaurant in town. Coogan is dreading the evening and would much rather stay home, but alas, there is no wiggling out. This is family, and there is an outstanding issue that must be addressed. Coogan is caught snooping around his son’s cell phone, so that should tell you something about what sort of father he is. It should also be noted that Gere is a politician in the middle of an all-consuming campaign, so that just gobbles everything in its vicinity.

The deal is that both couples’ teenage children have gotten themselves into extraordinary trouble. Far be it from me to reveal any specifics, as the film’s whole raison d’être is gradually revealing the details. But suffice it to say that the event in question has legal and ethical implications that are unavoidably disturbing. They are the kinds of consequences that no child should ever force their parents to face, especially when mental illness, the public eye, and years of seething resentment are in the mix. The formula is set for the most unpleasant outing ever for this foursome and for the audience. It is thrilling to watch a quartet of thespians like The Dinner’s volley vitriol back and forth, but ultimately this meal is more frustrating than anything else.

The Dinner is designed to be challenging, as any story with a clinically depressed character at its center should be. It is unreasonable to expect a cheerier arc, or even necessarily some possibility of relief. But what there ought to be is a chance for understanding. The structure consists of frame devices within frame devices, as flashbacks fill out the motivations forged over the past several weeks and the past several years and lifetimes. When in the outermost frame, The Dinner is naggingly difficult to pierce, but when it opens up to its deepest core, the viewer can say, “I accept you for who you are.”

The Dinner is Recommended If You Like: Having Your Stomach Knotted Like a Fist

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Courses