Kim Wolstenholme has reviewed the Region 2 release of Dinner With Friends. A film based on the popular Broadway play by Donald Marguilies which focuses on relationships between friends and couples. The disk has a low retail price but lacks any real extra features.
Gabe and Karen (Dennis Quaid and Andie McDowell) have been best friends with Tom and Beth (Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette) for 12 years; in fact it was Gabe and Karen who introduced Tom and Beth to each other all those years ago. The four of them have done almost everything together over the years, from holidays to raising children, and feel as if they know about almost every aspect of each others lives. However, all that is about to change over the course of one dinner as Gabe and Karen find out that their best friends are about to get a divorce.
When a tearful Beth first tells her friends about Tom’s infidelity and his intentions to divorce her, Gabe and Karen initially take sides based on gender distinction. Karen is shocked and disgusted with the news and feels she has to defend her friend and condemn Tom’s actions, whereas Gabe’s reaction is a little more measured. He feels he has to hear Tom’s side of the story and indicates that there must be more to this than initially meets the eye. While shocked at the news he refuses to condemn his friend’s actions. As time progresses and battle lines are drawn between the two couples Gabe and Karen find themselves questioning their own relationship and family. Are they really the perfect couple that everyone seems to think they are, do they really know how the other would react if one of them were unfaithful, and did they really know their friends that well?
Dinner with Friends looks at the relationships that exist between friends and lovers, and how people react when confronted with unexpected news and situations. It’s a very compact movie both in terms of time and cast members. The story revolves around the 4 main characters (as is expected) and this does give the film a level of intimacy, but throughout it all you can’t help but feel that you’ve been here before.
The film is based on the Broadway play written by Donald Margulies, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000. The film has retained much of the simplicity of the play as it does not let the locations overshadow the actors – the attention is focused on what is being said rather than where it is being said. Norman Jewison (Moonstruck, Rollerball and The Thomas Crown Affair) has done a capable job of bringing the play to the small screen (it was commissioned by the HBO channel in the US), but you get the feeling that for the majority of the movie he was following the stage directions and not really adding anything new. He has added a few scenes that for obvious reasons could not be done on a stage but nothing that could be deemed as substantial.
The main strength in the film comes from the performances of the 4 central characters. Each of their performances is extremely watchable, and I can’t even fault Andie McDowell who’s never been one of my favourite actresses. They all seem to fall easily into place as their designated characters, Quaid and McDowell as the comfortable married couple, Kinnear as the slightly sleazy adulterer and Collette as the wronged wife. It’s a nice combination and they all play off each other extremely well, especially Quaid and Kinnear who steal the whole movie with their two longish scenes together.
The picture quality is surprisingly good I noticed no defects or artifacting and colours were lifelike and well represented. The only minor problem I had concerned the flashback to Hunter Valley (the meeting place for Tom and Beth), where everything looked orange. While this is most probably a deliberate use of colour filters the orange cast to everything was very noticeable and very dominant. Every other colour in these scenes seemed slightly washed out and instead of providing a nice happy sunshiny glow (which was probably the desired effect) it looked as if everyone had a bad case of fake tan.
Made for TV film = Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Not a big problem as this is a very dialogue driven film and the mix was more than adequate. The centre speaker gets the majority of the work with a bit of channel separation used infrequently. All dialogue was perfectly clear with no drop outs noticeable.
Theatrical Trailer: A fairly bog standard non anamorphic trailer for the film. The trailer really does little to recommend the film and features the most annoying voice over man that I’ve ever heard.
Cast & Crew: A few static pages of text on the main members of cast and crew. All 4 of the main leads are mentioned, as are a number from the crew. This was quite surprising as usually these things tend to concentrate on the cast and only mention the director for the crew section.
Production Notes: The generic bit of extra detail about the filming of the movie and anecdotes from main members of the cast. There is nothing really to add value to the film here, although it does tell you how much food was cooked for the first dinner scene.
Dinner with Friends is a film most likely to enjoyed by (dare I say it) middle aged couples, who will be able to apply all the wry observations to their own lives. It’s a relatively enjoyable movie about relationships, but you can’t help feeling that it’s re-treading ground that’s been covered many times before without adding anything new. Despite its low retail price, I’d recommend renting Dinner with Friends before making a purchase as this is a film that will have little, if any, re-watch value.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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