MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981)

Context note: I previously posted all of the entries in this blog, mostly daily, via social media to my friends (apart from the handful of folks who signed up for the tandem Substack) to weather the pandemic. What follows is what I wrote for that day. (Spoiler alert: matters did not go back to normal.)

Programming note: it’s been a year to the day since I started doing these daily recommendations — albeit with a few breaks — and, with everything re-opening and with people returning to some sort of normalcy, I figure this is as a good time as any to go on sabbatical, so to speak. I’m sure I’ll want to post about a bunch of horror films during October, or start it back up during the freezing homestuck hellscapes that are Chicago winters, but who knows. It has meant a lot to me that many of you have read and engaged with these weird self-imposed posts, and I wanted to say thank you.

(HBO MAX/VOD) I’m ashamed to admit that, while I’ve been aware of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE for years and years — yes, I laughed at that old SIMPSONS joke about the MY DINNER WITH ANDRE arcade game just like everyone else — I had never sat down to watch it start-to-finish until I thought to quip about it regarding LOKI S01E03 and told myself: “You should really watch it before you make a lazy, common reference.”

Reader, I watched it.

It’s a work focused on emotional unburdening over dinner, and (to me) how masculine emotions and insecurities are meant to be suppressed, but doing so will only cause more issues later on down the line. While in the early 80s it was — I imagine; I’m old but I’m not that old — construed as a character study of an oversharing, over-emotional man, but it seems intensely relevant in a pre-post-pandemic time.

If somehow you aren’t familiar with MY DINNER WITH ANDRE: it’s about two weathered theater creatives who haven’t connected in years — one of whom doesn’t even really care for the other — dining together. It mostly consists of Andre Gregory (Andre Gregory) monologuing about certain steps and changes in his life and how he feels about it to Wallace Shawn (Wallace Shawn), who occasionally peppers him with questions. That’s it. That’s the film. It feels like an adaptation of a stage play but, no, it was an original screenplay from both Gregory and Shawn.

I’ve inferred in the past that these recommendations aren’t just recommendations, aren’t just an exercise to improve my critical writing skills, but are also meant to impart small facets of my oddball life to friends new and old. While these recommendations go out to some strangers who I do not know — thanks for reading and feel free to reach out! — I cross-post these to other social media outlets, and some recipients only know me as a ‘tech guy’ or ‘quiet spouse of their friend’. I’m not necessarily sure that I’m doing myself a lot of favors with these posts, but it’s a bit of earnestness and honestness that I couldn’t help but embrace while feeling isolated from humanity, while thinking others were feeling similarly.

All of this navel-gazing doesn’t do justice to the text of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. It’s about so much more. There’s a self-reflexivity to it that I adore; it’s reflecting on audiences and writerly goals, and then it goes almost completely, but intentionally, off the rails before pulling into the station and goes on to examine self-performative works as a human. It’s an extraordinarily controlled piece.

I thought I could watch it while working, given that it’s mostly (about) dialogue, but Andre Gregory’s intensity demanded my attention time and time again. For a film that’s just two men talking, it’s extremely visually compelling, and director Louis Malle and cinematographer Jeri Sopanen do a terrific job; it’s tautly edited, features extremely smart production design and camerawork — the use of mirrors to capture both characters’ faces is fantastic — and Gregory and Shawn are absolutely incredible. They knew what they wanted and Malle made it happen, although, allegedly, not without a few fights!

It is a fine film to wrap up this daily endeavor. A few weeks ago, I went out to safely dine at a restaurant with a friend for the first time in too long and — in retrospect — I was certainly being the oversharing, overly talky Andre. My cadence was too rushed and I was too frank and I said a few things out loud that I wouldn’t have said about myself two years ago but, still, it felt good. It felt earnest and honest and welcomed. I know this sort of acceptance of male emotional unburdening and free expression will be less acceptable as COVID (hopefully) dissipates, and I find it disheartening but inevitable. Back to normal, for better or for worse.