“My Dinner with Andre” involves two characters – who aren’t all that appealing to begin with – in a situation that’s not at all interesting. Not only is this one of those movies where the title says it all, but it’s even less exciting than you’d expect – since everything here is driven by dialogue, it falls flat when its characters have nothing worthwhile to say. It doesn’t help that they drift aimlessly from one subject to the next, or that the movie itself is mostly devoid of any real tension. In fact, it has a lot in common with that Neil Simon spoof “The Even Couple,” which made Peter Griffin from “Family Guy” fire a missile at the screen: “There’s no conflict in this movie!”
Most of the talking here is done by Andre Gregory, a theater director living in New York City. He shows up at a restaurant to eat with Wallace Shawn, a playwright friend who he hasn’t seen or heard from in years. They spend the evening getting each other up to speed about how life has been treating them over the years, and in Andre’s case, there’s quite a bit to talk about: He spent the last five years trekking all over the world, seeing everything from the Sahara to the capital of Yugoslavia.
We don’t learn much about any of these places, though. Andre merely uses them as backdrops for his eccentric polemics and profundities, a great deal of which approach the point of parody. When Wally brings up the electric blanket he got as a Christmas gift, Andre says he can’t even imagine using one. “I think that that kind of comfort just separates you from reality in a very direct way,” he says.
Everything has to be a metaphor with this guy. Even when he enters his apartment building and uses his doorman’s first name to greet him, Andre says he’s ashamed of himself for looking down on someone who’s nice enough to call him Mr. Gregory. “I think that an act of murder is committed in that moment,” he says.
His doorman probably wasn’t upset, but I was. This is one of the most insulting movies ever made, not to mention one of the most presumptuous. It assumes we don’t have any deep thoughts of our own, or any intelligent friends we can share them with.
Wally and Andre, who play faux versions of themselves, based the whole thing on actual conversations they recorded and turned into a two-hour script, one that makes you wonder what they thought was so terrific about all that gabbing. Maybe you had to be there.
It’s tempting to think that the only thing wrong here is that it’s no fun watching two people talk their heads off, but it’d help if the conversation went somewhere. That “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” series PBS aired about 20 years ago ran for six hours, and pretty much all we saw was Campbell and host Bill Moyers talk, talk, talk. The difference between that and “My Dinner with Andre” is that Campbell understood that it wasn’t enough to bring up ideas and leave them out to dry – he used them as instruments to illustrate a point. None of what Andre says has any cohesion, though, and even his most inspired stories – the only good one is Andre’s account of his own premature burial – are freestanding.
Of course, none of this has hindered its reputation as essential viewing for art-house cinephiles, who just want to know what all the fuss is about. It’s hard to believe that back in 1981, people flocked to their local art theaters after hearing Siskel & Ebert’s glowing review on TV, turning a small-time indie film into a cult smash. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.