“Dinner in America” is a questionable, and at times simply off-putting, declaration of a punk rock lifestyle in small town America.
Simon is kind of dick. Actually, he’s a total dick. He walks with a “don’t-look-at-me” swagger, talks to people (when he must) with contempt and sarcasm, and even just looks at people (when he must) with a twisted scowl on his face. But when you walk through everyday life and have to deal with a countless number of insufferably stupid people, Simon’s demeanor suddenly feels more justified and oddly relatable…at first.
He’s told not to smoke because someone is allergic, and he continues to do so anyway, because, “fuck him”. He asks if someone is a “faggot” because he looks like one. And suddenly, Simon takes a free fall in our good graces. The world is a dumpster full of assholes, and Dinner in America let’s you know it, even if it takes sabotaging its main character to prove the point.
While trying to raise money for his band by participating in a clinical study, Simon (Kyle Gallner) can’t take the side effects and bails early, effectively voiding any payment he would have received. He leaves with a girl who also bails on the study, and she invites him to dinner at her home and then offers to blow him after as well, because, why not? He takes her up on it, and it turns out that her dad and brother are sports-loving racists. Her mom (Leah Thompson) throws herself at Simon and tries to have sex with him, because, why not?
Fighting ensues, a fire is lit (Simon’s a bit of a pyromaniac), cops are called, and Simon is now on the lam.
While on the run, Simon stumbles across Patty (Emily Skeggs) in an alley behind the pet store where she works (the same alley that a homeless man uses as a toilet), and he immediately sees an opportunity to use her and her home as a place to hide out. Being on 5 medications and a bit oblivious to the reality of most situations, Patty agrees to Simon hanging out at her place for a day or two.
As it turns out, Patty just happens to be the biggest fan of Simon’s band, identified by Simon by a pair of panties on her bed, the same she wore in a picture she included of herself masturbating in a love letter (one of many) written to him. Patty doesn’t realize who he is; it’s the music that she knows, the music that turns her on.
Simon is one angry dude only mellowed slightly by weed, something he passes on to Patty’s supposedly uptight, younger brother, Kevin (who’s actually the only level-headed character in the movie).
Other than that, Simon’s really just a tough guy asshole who seems pissed off at his own choices in life — and naturally he takes that out on other people.
As the film progresses, we come to realize that Simon does have a human side (kind of), as he starts to take an unexpected liking to Patty.
The same guy who says fuck him and fuck everything gets defensive against a couple of jock assholes who call Patty a retard. And that’s good to see. But it’s also good to then see Simon get his ass kicked by those same jock assholes.
There comes a point in the film when you realize that Simon is just like those insufferable people you come across in everyday life, the people you try to avoid at all costs just to keep your sanity.
It’s all very conflicting and confusing, and almost no one in the movie is worth rooting for or getting behind. Except Patty, of course, because of her sheer innocence. This innocent and simple quality makes the character endearing, and Skeggs really leans into the role and creates an offbeat character with real heart. She’s the kind of person you wish everyone would be like, because the world would be a better place if they were.
Through the character of Patty, Dinner in America shows us what’s worth striving for.
Points for that, but the film ultimately gets bogged down by most of the other characters it presents.
They’re all people who ruin everyone else’s good time, the kind of people who think they have the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want. And those people aren’t very enjoyable to watch. And unfortunately for Dinner in America, it doesn’t make for a very enjoyable film.
There’s a lot of comedy in the story, mostly dark, and most of it works. But the problem is not a lot of it resonates for very long because all the people are just so damn unlikable. You just kind of want nothing to do with them.
There’s a scene later in the film when Simon is being called out by his sister for shooting up with Patty and being strung out on drugs. Sure, she’s wrong in that instance, but you know she’s seen Simon screw up countless times his entire life — and she’s probably not wrong for thinking he’s strung out on drugs now. If we’re supposed to feel sorry for Simon and laugh off his sister, in either case, we don’t.
Simon may be a singer in a punk band who truly lives the punk lifestyle, and Gallner excels in the role, selling every attitude driven movement and sarcastic, mumbled word.
One can see there’s a fine line between punk and quirk, between Simon and Patty. Both celebrate living life your way, being who you are, and to hell with everyone else. But despite its best efforts and random moments of human connection, not once are you ever really convinced that Simon won’t end up screwing Patty over.
It’s all just too pessimistic and hopeless to feel otherwise.