Punk Rock Romance done right. Dinner in America is the anti-Rom-Com you’ve been looking for.
Far too often young romances are filled with the kind of twee preciousness that makes one’s eyes roll and induces diabetic shock from huge doses of saccharine. Dinner in America is refreshingly tart and honest. Coupled with the genuine chemistry of leads Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs the film is an undeniably winning Rom-Com.
Simon (Gallner) through a series of mishaps, all his doing, ends up on the lamb for arson. When not selling drugs, or being a test subject for drug trials, Simon fronts an underground Punk Band PSYOPS under the nom-de-plume John Q. Public. He is helped by Patty (Skeggs) to escape capture. Simon returns the favor in the most unexpected of ways.
You could make a simple comparison calling this John Hughes for the Xanax Generation or Say Anything… on Pills. Dinner in America is not that simple. A film that approaches relationships and love with a smack in the face and a huge dollop of honesty. Writer/Director Adam Rehmeier makes a Rom-Com that never feels like a Rom-Com. The aesthetics and the troupes of the genre are taken out back and literally stripped bare, its clothes lit on fire, a dead cat thrown on its naked body, as polaroids are taken.
The deconstruction isn’t the point though. It’s all in the service of the characters. Simon and Patty in other films would be visual gags or punchlines. Freaky supporting characters that are there to give two minutes of plot to our “perfect leads”. Simon and Patty are audiences that hate Rom-Coms. Simon would more than likely burn the screen down. Patty would go because her friends wanted to and be uncomfortable the entire time.
Dinner in America has no use for the perfectness of the Rom-Com. Simon and Patty are perfect in their imperfections. We know from the moment we see them. How they end up together and how they connect is part of the beauty of the film. The DIY Punk ethos plays a large part in their courtship and how they eventually connect. Gallner and Skeggs are perfect in these moments creating not just chemistry but true tension. There is a danger to how these two collide with one another.
Though not the typical leads both Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs are stars by the end of the film. Each creates their own star-making performance in a way that compliments each other but is very different. Skeggs’ Patty is sure of herself and what she wants but is afraid to voice it. She’s never had a cheerleader, someone who is on her side. How Gallner’s Simon through anger and frustration that she won’t. Eventually, genuine care about how she views herself is one of the many delights of the film. The way that Skeggs tracks and charts Patty’s blossoming to full-on Punk Rock Queen is so unique it feels as much an announcement as it does a harbinger of things to come from this young actor.
Gallner’s Simon like Gary Oldman’s Sid or Dian Lane’s Connie or Emilio Estevez’s Otto joins the ranks of filmdom’s great Punk Rock characters. Anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment, violent, pyromaniacal (is that a word), and all charisma and charm. Simon in Gallner’s hands is someone who doesn’t give a fuck but truly does give a fuck. The moment he interacts with Skeggs his performance is elevated.
Few people can play those moments of silent interactions. Gallner in his moments with Skeggs has it down to a science. As does Skeggs for that matter. There is a moment in a basement bedroom with a recording of a song that maybe one of the sexiest scenes in recent memory. Not because of skin that’s shown but because of the performances by the two actors.
Chemistry is ineffable but how to direct it and focus it takes skills by the actors and director. Many Romantic Comedies will propose to you that two people are falling in love or are in love in a finite moment on screen. There is no build-up to that moment of revelation. In Dinner in America, that moment has been built and earned. That’s why you can’t really call this a Romantic Comedy. Dinner in America is better than that label or any label for that matter. I think Simon and Patty would agree. If you did, they’d tell you to; YOU NEED TO TAKE IT DOWN A NOTCH, MOTHER FUCKER!