Dinner in America (Adam Carter Rehmeier, 2020) – Fantasia International Film Festival 2020

AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE AND PUNK ROCK

In a dreary Michigan suburb, aggro punk rocker Simon (Kyle Gallner) finds himself on the run after a bout of arson and a close call with the police. A chance encounter with eccentric and socially awkward Patty (Emily Skeggs) provides him a place to hide from the law, though she fails to realize that her new friend is the anonymous lead singer of her favourite band. The pair embark on a series of misadventures and while their radically different personalities make them an unlikely duo, Simon and Patty realize that they have a lot more in common than first expected.

Dinner in America is an ode to the ’90s Nebraska punk-scene of writer-director Adam Carter Rehmeier and a hilarious underdog love story boosted by a generous helping of absurdity and some instantly quotable dialogue. Set to the beat of brilliant original songs and perfectly casting Skeggs and Gallner as a suburban Bonnie and Clyde, Dinner in America is a wild and empowering ride through the places and people of Middle America — in all their peculiar forms.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with director Adam Carter Rehmeier and producer Ross Putman
  • One Night Only, new interview on the film’s music with Rehmeier, Emily Skeggs, Kyle Gallner, and composer John Swihart
  • Freedom from Want, new interviews with supporting cast members Lea Thompson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Pat Healy, and Griffin Gluck
  • Straight Shooting, new interview with cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier
  • Apocalypse Yow, new interview with musician and actor David Yow
  • Detroit Punk City, stories from cast and crew on the shoot
  • Outtakes and deleted scenes
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Soundtrack CD including a remix of “Watermelon” by Bernier
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by producer-director Ant Timpson

Microwave it, shove it down
Lucky for you, it’s turning brown
Poison veggies, plastic meat
Nothing real for us to eat
Around the table, Mom and Dad
Conversations that make you sad
A lot of talking and endless dread
Just shove it in and off to bed
Dinner in America
Dinnertime

It doesn’t take a lot of research to discover that Adam Carter Rehmeier considered Jared Hess’s Napoleon Dynamite (2004) a touchstone for his film Dinner in America (2020). It also doesn’t take a lot of watching Dinner to see the influence of Dynamite. Both films attend to the banal superficiality of Middle America, its dated kitsch, and the weight of mainstream normalcy, but while Napoleon Dynamite’s brand of absurdity expresses itself in a lethargic geekery, Dinner in America finds its voice in punk rock confrontation. Rehmeier’s tour through the suburbs of Michigan begins with Simon (Kyle Gallner), an anarchist with a partially shaved head, a foul-mouth, and a toxic attitude. He’s dismissed early from his role as a clinical subject to a pharmaceutical trial and is short-changed on his pay. Naturally, he’s enticed by fellow guinea pig Beth (Hannah Marks) to come back to her place for dinner and a blowjob, but the meal is shared with her family and it all melts down once Beth’s mom Betty (Lea Thompson) takes a carnal interest in Simon, physical violence and property damage are served for dessert, and the whole scene ends up putting the “nuclear” in “nuclear family.” With nowhere to go and tailed by the cops, Simon finds sanctuary with Patty (Emily Skeggs) who he discovers sitting in an alley behind the pet store where she works. Patty is an overly sheltered, overly medicated, dim bulb fashion disaster who is regularly labelled a “retard” by the jocks and cheerleaders in her community, but Simon is happy to pose as a waylaid missionary and dine with her square family if it means a roof over his head and the law off his tail.

Some critics admittedly find the opening passages of Dinner in America to be a bit rocky going. Rehmeier thinly paints his vision of America in very broad brushstrokes – sneering, aggro-arsonist Simon; befuddled, naive Patty; hot-to-trot housewife Betty; her football-loving, casually racist, and quick-tempered husband Bill and son Bobby (Nick Chinlund and Sean Rogers); Patty’s overly protective, middle-of-the-road parents, Connie and Norm (Mary Lynn Rajskub and Pat Healy); Patty’s high-strung, perennially frustrated brother, Kevin (Griffin Gluck); and various college track team douches (Nico Greetham and Lukas Jacob) and mean girl bitches (Lena Drake and Shelby Alayne Antel). Family dinners are the stuff of Rockwellian Americana but Dinner’s portraits are ugly and absurd. These early sequences likely feel to some as if they take aim at soft targets and engage in some narrative furniture-moving. Personally, I love them. Either way, Dinner takes off once Patty discovers Simon is John Q. Public, the masked singer of her favourite punk band Psyops, and Simon realizes that Patty is the unnamed author of numerous and shockingly explicit fan letters to John. Despite their radically different stations in their square-minded community, Simon and Patty are kindred spirits and much of the film’s pleasure is taken in observing them work this through while Patty deals with her newfound unemployment and Simon struggles with a coming mutiny in his band over a show with rock-posers, The Alliance. In contrast to the cardboard backdrop of driveway basketball, fast food restaurants, and amusement centres, Patty, with her lack of judgement and her open attitudes, and Simon, with his belief in the underdog and his rejection of society’s inauthentic traps, convivially transform each other from another couple of oddball outsiders into a pair of compassionate young lovers.

I’d hate to make Dinner in America sound like just another obligatory Sundance indie-comedy (of which both Dynamite and Dinner are) or even some better than average YA, misfit romance. This is, after all, a proposal for Arrow Video glory. Rehmeier’s film has the feel of a cult favourite to be and in a just world, Dinner in America would become the Napoleon DynamiteHeathersRepo ManWelcome to the Dollhouse-inspired classic for a new generation. Rehmeier has made a film that boasts profanity, drug-dealing, substance abuse, excrement, dead animals, tongue-kissing, break and enters, a cameo by David Yow of The Jesus Lizard as a shitty band promoter, and some killer music. That last one is key as rock music, particularly punk music, can be staggeringly unconvincing when created just for the screen. Rehmeier describes the film as a love-letter to the Nebraska punk-scene he grew up with in the ’90s and Psyops’ brand of hardcore sounds remarkably authentic, especially its titular track “Dinner in America.” Yet for as great as Psyops sounds and for a impressive as John Swihart’s electro-trash score is, Dinner in America stuns with one simply revelatory musical moment that is unequivocally transcendent, a single track whose lyrics are culled together from Emily Skegg’s notes and poems and transformed into a song by Rehmeier (who also played the songs music). The track  is a pivotal moment in Dinner in America, one that is played within the movie’s latter half as a revelatory moment of artistic brilliance. Let’s be clear: popular songs made for films suck and those moments when a character in the film is struck by a song rarely elicits the same stunned reaction in the film-going audience. Dinner is the exception that proves the rule and this magical musical moment does far more than merely not suck: it expresses an authenticity and a credibility which confirms everything in the film that appears both before and after its appearance. The track is improbably good and it alone justifies the six year struggle Rehmeier and his producer Ross Putman faced in making Dinner.

Getting Dinner in America to the screen has been no easy feat. Putman has remarked that no one believed in this film for a long time and despite comedian Ben Stiller stepping in as a producer-in-name to give credence to the project, financing was still lost on occasion. Still, Dinner has succeeded in its perseverance, most particularly on the backs of a stellar cast. Gallner, recently of the CBS All Access series Interrogation, is acerbically charming playing the role of Simon with a voice harshly lowered by his non-stop smoking and his screaming out Psyops vocals during the shoot. Skeggs is adorkably wonderful, playing Patty with an openness that is nearly paralyzing yet brimming with potential and vitality. Dinner’s largely two-dimensional supporting characters are performed with an impressive lack of shame, whether they are in the hands of able professionals like Lea Thompson or Mary Lynn Rajskub or the numerous local performers cast in Detroit. The production’s struggles have also inadvertently moved the film into a more fitting context for its reception, taking a story about the decay of American culture and releasing it into Trump’s America where such fears and ugliness have been openly weaponized. If only Dinner in America might predict the resurgence of punk rock that these greedy, self-righteous, and uncompassionate times ought to inspire.

MMC! might be getting ahead of itself by already proposing Dinner in America for the Arrow Video treatment. Eight months since debuting at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the film continues to play the festival circuit, screening as the opening film of the 2020 Calgary Underground Film Festival back in June, showing most recently at last month’s Fantasia International Film Festival, and soon to air as part of the Nightstream virtual film festival. Rehmeier and the production team are holding out on the possibility that Dinner in America will one day have an actual theatrical run and that may be fair – Dinner is the type of film an audience could easily get behind with its weirdo rebel love and its amazing music. With its mid-90s setting, the film won’t age while it waits for more hospitable climes, but when the day arrives for an elaborate hard media release, MMC! would love to see Arrow Video edition that could comfortably rubs shoulders with John Hughes and Kevin Smith. Dinner in America’s snarky, lo-fi romance was unquestionably MMC!’s most purely enjoyable experience at Fantasia and we’re convinced it could make for a great AV release. Some please put that in Arrow Video’s eardrum and make Dinner in America its movie-boyfriend.

Credits: This imagined Arrow Video edition of Dinner in America has obviously been built from the ground up with no precedent edition. Heck, the film doesn’t even have a poster or a trailer to share! This post has relied on various interviews with cast and crew to imagine some potential special features, although it seems like cast and crew have plenty to talk about. Check out the Fantasia Q&A with cast and crew for some further insight on the film. Producer-director Ant Timpson was chosen to provide an essay on the film given his prominence in the genre cinema world and his synopsis of Dinner in America for the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Big thanks once again to the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival! Stay tuned for some more Arrow Video proposals for some other great Fantasia favourites!

3 thoughts on “Dinner in America (Adam Carter Rehmeier, 2020) – Fantasia International Film Festival 2020

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