Film: My Dinner With Andre
In a nutshell; this, for about two hours.
"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.
- Based on a True Story: Although As Himself may not exactly apply (see above), apparently the events the two discuss are based on real events.
- Broken Pedestal: One of the reasons Wally didn't want to meet Andre. He'd heard Andre had been acting strangely. His fears are confirmed.
- Building of Adventure: There isn't much of an adventure going on but the movie takes place mostly in the restaurant.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Wallace thinks Andre might be a mild example of this.
- Crack Pairing: Invoked by Wally, who states with disgust that people will do this at parties, such as "What if Richard Nixon met Frank Sinatra?"
- The Danza: Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, playing characters with those exact names.
- Despair Event Horizon: Andre complains that he was miserable, while almost everyone was commenting on how great he looked.
- Establishing Character Moment: Wally's complaining about his hectic day and Andre's talking about his experiments immediately lets you know exactly what kind of men they are. As the screenplay's publisher's note states:
Andre Gregory is an intense, highly experimental theater director and playwright in search of life's meanings and spiritual revelations. His friend, Wally Shawn, is an actor and playwright living in New York who is more preoccupied with the search for his next meal.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's about a guy... who has dinner with Andre.
- Extremely Short Timespan: As one might expect, since it takes place over the course of a single dinner.
- Follow the Leader: Richard Linklater's best films (Slacker, Waking Life, the Before films) follow the same narrative structure, though in his films, his protagonist(s) don't remain in a single location.
- Genre-Busting: Okay, so what genre would you say this is?
- 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.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: A mild variation. After some heavy statements by Andre, the waiter comes around to ask them if they want dessert. Andre just asks for an expresso, while Wally, shaken, says he wants one too, but to make his an amaretto.
- Irony: Wally finds it a bit silly that Andre would participate in a form of experimental theater in which actors play themselves and don't really do anything. He also clarifies, however, that even two people doing arbitrary things such as conversing or silently drinking tea still counts as "doing" something.
- Le Film Artistique
- 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.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The Simpsons has referenced this film a few times, such as My Dinner With Andre: The Video Game.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The film ends with Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1.
- 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.
- Speech-Centric Work: A particularly well-known example.
- Spiritual Successor: Wally and Andre Shoot Ibsen.
- 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.
- Talking Heads: The modern Trope Codifier.
- Title Drop: The very last line:
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.
- The Tropeless Tale: Not literally, as this very page indicates, but it's probably the closest any film has come. According to Roger Ebert.
Ebert: Someone asked me the other day if I could name a movie that was entirely devoid of cliches. I thought for a moment, and then answered, My Dinner With Andre.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Wally vents at Andre during the last third of the film.