Film review: Dinner with friends (2001)


This is an interesting and insightful film, but you wouldn’t have guessed it was made-for-TV judging from the cast. Looks like a project like this attracted some fairly big names. Directed by Norman Jewison, who also directed “The Hurricane” with Denzil Washington and “Moonstruck” (which I liked) from the 80s.

“Dinner with friends” is a contemporary character study of two married couples, and their struggles. The drama is set in Connecticut and New York. It’s about friendship, the two husband’s are best friends, and so are their wives. So it’s about both female and male friendship. Due to events in the plot both couples must re-evaluate their seemingly perfect relationships. The focus is less on the kids and more about the adult issues. I think it’s partly about how messy relationship problems can sometimes be. Blame is a fickle thing, nobody is perfect.

I think “Dinner with friends” was probably written with married couples in mind as the key audience, but I’m sure single people could enjoy this too. The flashbacks made the story more about the psychology of the characters, and less about guessing what’s going to happen next.


I read the 86 page Pulitzer Prize winning play by Donald Marguiles, and it’s so short most of the dialogue is retained in the film adaptation. Basically like reading a script. As the back cover of the book explains, it’s a deceptively straight-forward suburban drama.

But I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a comedy, for me there were only a couple of laughs here and there. A small objection from my side would be some of the scenes were a little cliché for American families. The strength of the piece is clearly the dialogue.

Another reviewer points out author Marguiles poses several interesting questions about marriage and friendship: How do you handle growing old together? Could your marriage all fall apart? And if you knew everything about your closest friends, would you still want them around? Who has it right: those, who stick to marriage or those who break out of the rut? And how do we react when our closest friends doubt us?

According to the sleeve of the book, Donald Marguiles’s plays have been performed at major theatres across the United States and around the world. I have to say even though the book/play won the award for drama, I preferred the film. I tried reading plays before and I think at least in this case, it works best being performed and spoken by actors. Just gives it more realism and emotion.


But the book is slightly more sophisticated and quotable. The movie was "dumbed down" a bit. I recommend both film and book version. I can’t say which you should go for, they each are their own thing. I liked both!

Here are some of my favourite verbal fireworks from the book (no spoilers) :

“I met X – she made me feel good from the first time I talked to her on the phone”

“Have I ever been so wrong about someone? God, what does this say about my judgment?"

“He’s essentially a good guy waiting to happen. He just needs to find the right woman”

“When you’re single, you expend so much energy. I know. You’re always looking, always feeling scrutinized. It’s exhausting”

“I don’t know, I think she likes you. Yeah? Then I like her. Uh, you’re so deep”

“I thought if I could choose my family this time, if I could make my friends my family....Congratulations. The family you’ve chosen is just as fucked-up and fallible as the one you were born into”

“Settling down, having kids. It was just one more thing I did because it was expected of me, not because I had any real passion for it”

“How come the minute the conversation turns to us you’re struck mute?”

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

Readers, any thoughts? Any other plays made into films you like?

4 comments:

  1. I haven't seen the film, but this is a great post, sounds like a movie a lot of people could relate to. I'm gonna try to find it and watch it.

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  2. @Minoccio : Glad you found the review interesting. I love it when there is quotable dialogue, and also that the film is open to interpretation. I think "V for vendetta" you reviewed had both as well ( :

    I saw “Dinner with friends” on TV, but the poster I used above is from the dvd, so you can probably locate it somewhere.

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  3. Great reviews here. Interesting to hear that you prefer the film to the book/play. That's almost always the case for me as well. I'd still love to get ahold of the text, just to see if the dialogue snaps as well in print.

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    Replies
    1. @Alex Withrow: Thanks! The play is worth a read, but I just think the story needs real actors, for it to pack a punch emotionally. If the play was ever being performed-that would be interesting to go and see.

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