You’ll Probably Want to Skip The Dinner Party (2020) This Year
Title: The Dinner Party
First Wide Release: June 9, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Miles Doleac
Writer: Miles Doleac, Michael Donovan Horn
Runtime: 116 Minutes
Starring: Alli Hart, Bill Sage, Lindsay Anne Williams
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A playwright, Jeff (Mike Mayhall), and his wife, Haley (Alli Hart), are invited to a dinner party hosted by obnoxiously rich elites who can pay to make Jeff’s career take off if all goes well. Haley does not want to attend and can’t shake the bad feeling she gets as soon as she enters the mansion. Jeff begs Haley to keep it together just for the night, reminding her to take her medication and make no mention of her personal traumas she experienced in life. Soon the couple meets the wide assortment of guests invited to the dinner that range from odd to slightly sinister. Haley and Jeff are in for a wild night, but just how wild are things about to get?
Too long and audacious for its budget, much like its own struggling playwright, The Dinner Party struggles to sell its convoluted vision.
Every interaction feels a bit off when you’re meeting people, especially powerful people. It’s a natural feeling to feel strong emotions towards strangers and that is exactly what Jeff and Haley experience the moment they step foot in this manor. Jeff turns up his “charm” to ten, often in the form of negging or otherwise belittling Haley. Haley attempts to keep up appearances, but it is clear that her time spent with the ultra-rich is troubling her deeply. The sole bright moments flash in front of her when she interacts with Sadie (Lindsay Anne Williams), one of the enigmatic and charming hosts.
After an interesting setup, The Dinner Party loses its steam. Opting for a slow-burn and tense mashup of The Purge meets The Invitation, The Dinner Party fizzles into something in-between that fails to capture the intensity of either premise. The plot drags along while each dinner guest attempts to play a game of who can conjure up the longest monologue to keep each other entertained while they wait for their entrees (which I think at that point are already finished?) It all lacks the substance necessary to develop the story. By the time we get to the end, it’s clear that half of the metaphors and analogies didn’t pertain to anything really. Much of the dialogue falls into this trap of being over-the-top just for the sake of it rather than telling a good story or having a solid message.
The writing for the characters doesn’t fix this at all. Haley has an edge to her that is dulled as she never really has any ownership over her story. It’s a disservice to her character and the message of the film. Agatha (Kamille McCuin), Sebastian (Sawandi Wilson), and Carmine (Bill Sage) all inject some liveliness into the otherwise limpid picture, but their characters feel more like caricatures as time goes on.
Control is an interesting central motif employed by the film. Whether it is in recounting the plots of characters in operas, dinner guests talking over or for others, or the ability to accept the choices made in the present and past; controlling one’s narrative is central to The Dinner Party. A lot of this is undercut by one of the character’s actions throughout the film, essentially making those choices for the other and assisting them along the way. It feels unearned and uninteresting, which is certainly a choice for a film who readily falls back on its message of autonomy.
With a tighter script, I think The Dinner Party could be a nasty little indie horror. The pacing really kills it by elongating the various flaws of the film over nearly two hours. Everything from the set design to the costumes to the effects, all feels cheap. That’s a problem when the setting is this super secretive, elite mansion of successful theater kingmakers. It wavers on tone quite a bit that it becomes hard to stay invested in what the film wants to be. Is this a horror comedy, light on plot with some goofy deaths and dramatic chase scenes or is its deep philosophical ramblings a doorway into the mind of a writer wanting to tell a much more fascinating tale? The Dinner Party never really decides.
I wanted to like The Dinner Party more than I did, but I struggle to disregard its many flaws. Neither particularly well-made nor entertaining, The Dinner Party floats on its ideas alone which isn’t enough for me to recommend it to the folks back home. There are moments of a good and interesting film deep within it, but they are stifled by budget constraints, a ridiculous runtime, a repetitive script, and a sense of familiarity. It’s definitely not the worst film I have seen, and I do commend the team for making it look better produced than it likely was. Sadly, it just isn’t enough to put it over the threshold for me. Do yourself a favor and pass on this get-together.
Overall Score? 5/10