"I was beginning to realize that the only way to make this evening bearable, would be to ask Andre a few questions. Asking questions always relaxes me. In fact, I sometimes think that my secret profession is that I'm a private investigator, a detective. I always enjoy finding out about people. Even if they are in absolute agony, I always find it very interesting."
Two men have dinner in a fancy restaurant and discuss life.No, really. That's the entire plot.To go into a bit more detail, My Dinner With Andre is a 1981 movie directed by Louis Malle and written by its stars. In it, Wallace (played by Wallace Shawn), a playwright and actor, goes to a restaurant to meet his old friend Andre (played by Andre Gregory), whom he hasn't seen for a while, and the film essentially follows their conversation over dinner throughout the course of the evening. It begins with Andre discussing his experiences since Wallace has last seen him, which mostly involves experimental theatre in various exotic locales, before the two men become involved in a friendly debate between Andre's spiritualistic and idealistic worldview and Wallace's down-to-earth and pragmatic humanism.Okay, so maybe not the most exciting plot ever. But it's regarded as a cult classic among aficionados of independent cinema for its philosophical themes and minimalist presentation. It's also unique; whatever else can be said, there's not that many movies out there like it. And hey, it's probably one of the most easy-to-summarise movies in existence.
My Dinner With Andre provides examples of:
As Himself: Played with; although the characters are named after the actors who play them, and some of the events they describe apparently happened, both Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory have denied that they are playing themselves entirely. They've stated that were they to remake the movie they'd swap roles to prove the point.
Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The movie went unrated in the US because the filmmakers decided not to submit it to the MPAA. It's not a children's film, but there isn't anything unsuitable for kids either. The movie would probably pass with a PG (or even a G) rating, so maybe the distributors were worried that that might mislead audiences expecting more action.
The Ghost: Pretty much everyone mentioned by Wallace and Andre. The most we ever get is a photograph of a Polish woman Andre worked with. Debbie and Chiquita in particular are probably the most frequently mentioned of the unseen cast (Wally's girlfriend and Andre's wife, respectively.)
Godwin's Law: Andre likes to throw references to Hitler and the word "fascistic" around quite liberally.
Minimalism: Nearly the entire film is two men engaging in dinner conversation. No plot, no special effects, no ornate costuming or makeup.
Minimalist Cast: There are only really two characters in this thing. Well, except for the waiter. But he doesn't really do much, serving dinner aside. Technically, there are a number of extras seen near the beginning, and there are some staff members who have a few lines such as the bartender and the coatchecking girl, but once they actually sit down and start eating the focus becomes entirely on the two of them, with everyone else disappearing aside from a few members of the staff who can occasionally be seen in the background.
Though Louis Malle takes great pains to remind the audience that the duo are in a restaurant, with the mildly disapproving waiter, and the laughter of a female couple on occasion in the background. The intent is to make sure the audience knows that they are just one of many overhearing this conversation.
No Antagonist: The closest the film gets is a philosophical disagreement between friends, and they're quite civil about it. The film also doesn't really take sides, leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusion about whether they agree more with Wallace or Andre in their debate.
No Ending: The argument ends without any real resolution or one side triumphing; Wallace and Andre merely finish their meal and say their goodbyes.
Real Time: The movie is almost entirely devoted to the dinner, with only two scenes depicting Wallace arriving for dinner and going home in a taxi breaking this. Viewers are often surprised that the film took a few months to shoot, despite being only one location in a in-universe two hour time frame.
Sad Clown: Andre seems chipper, but one of the running themes of the film is about wearing a mask. When Wally first greets Andre, "You look great!", Andre cheerfully replies, "I feel terrible!" Andre then shows a picture of himself during his experiences in Poland, and he looks desperately unhappy, despite being "reborn" there. He then notes that a picture he had of Chiquita which he thought looked sexy now looked, with his more experienced eyes, as very sad. Later, Andre notes that he's more open with his emotions - when he's annoyed by his family, he tells them they're annoying him (to their shock).
Slice of Life: Specifically, it's a casual two-hour conversation in a restaurant.
Society Marches On: Averted — sadly, most of the issues raised in the film are still around. The only indication that this is New York in 1980 is that it's much grimier and dirty than it is now.
Michael Winterbottom's The Trip uses the same basic structure (two actors who are friends despite having drastically different world views having long conversations / arguments over fancy meals in expensive restaurants) and develops many of the same themes.
I treated myself to a taxi. I rode home through the city streets. There wasn't a street, there wasn't a building, that wasn't connected to some memory in my mind. There, I was buying a suit with my father. There, I was having an ice cream soda after school. And when I finally came in, Debbie was home from work, and I told her everything about my dinner with Andre.