Two men have dinner together in a fancy restaurant and discuss life.
No, really. That's the entire plot.
The 1981 movie was 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 initially 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 was eventually rated PG, 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.
- Book-Ends: The film begins and ends with Wally traveling to and from the dinner. Tellingly, Wally on the way there is miserable, and feeling old, reminiscing about riding around in taxis when he was a boy and thinking about art and life instead of money. The end has him springing for a taxi and thinking about art and life.
- 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.
- Character Development: Realistically Downplayed, as there is little happening in the film other than the conversation itself. However, the ending note of the dialogue shows Andre at his probably most depressed ever, and the epilogue subtly demonstrates that Wally, at least for the time being, has reconnected somewhat with the real world around him.
- 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.
- 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.
- Government Conspiracy: Andre and his friends feel like they're living in "an Orwellian nightmare."Andre: (exploding) Okay! Yes! Were bored! Were all bored now! But has it ever occurred to you, Wally, that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing, created by a world totalitarian government based on money? And that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks. And its not just a question of individual survival, Wally, but that somebody whos bored is asleep, and somebody whos asleep will not say no.
- 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 espresso, 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: They're not seen, but Andre's descriptions of his forays into experimental theatre qualify. The movie itself is frequently discussed as an example of this trope, but compared to the stereotypically incomprehensible and pretentiously aloof works that this trope spoofs it's actually fairly straightforward and simple to understand.
- Magic Versus Science: Discussed by Andre and Wally. During their dinner conversation, Andre has extolled the virtues of a spiritual and emotional awakening from his experiences influencing the way he lives his life. Wally has taken these stories on board, and even admits that some small unconscious part of him entertains the idea of wishful thinking, but that he consciously lives his life according to reason and evidence. An example of a fortune cookie is brought up where Wally admits he might be influenced by it on some level, though he knows it can't possibly have been made in a factory somewhere with him in mind. Wally does agree with Andre that science hasn't necessarily made things better.
- Manly Tears: Wallace recalls that a friend found Andre sobbing uncontrollably after seeing Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata when a character's line hit too closely to him: "I could always live in my art but never in my life." Sometimes when Andre laughs during the film, it sounds like barely controlled crying.
- 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. However, 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.
- Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: Level 0. It's as non-violent as a film could possibly be.
- Mushroom Samba: Andre says he got one from pure boredom while at a Christmas Eve mass.Andre: When all of a sudden, a huge creature appeared, looking at the congregation! It was about, I'd say, six foot eight, something like that, you know, and it was half bull, half man, it's skin was blue, it had violets growing out of its eyelids and poppies growing out of its toenails, and it just stood there for the whole mass. I mean, I could not make that creature disappear. You know, I thought: "Oh, well, you know, I'm just seeing this because I'm bored," you know. I could not make that creature go away. Okay, now: I didn't talk with people about it, because they'd think I was weird. But I felt that this creature was somehow coming to comfort me. That somehow he was appearing to say: "Well! You may feel low, and you might not be able to create a play right now. But look what can come to you, on Christmas eve! Hang on, old friend! I may seem weird to you, but on these weird voyages, weird creatures appear! It's part of the journey. You're okay! Hang in there!"
- 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: Or rather, nothing but the ending: the argument simply ends without any real resolution or one side triumphing; Wallace and Andre merely finish their meal and say their goodbyes.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The film ends with Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: A reasonable amount of "uh"s and pauses to eat their food.
- 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).
- Shaped Like Itself:Andre: You see a terrorist on the news, they look just like a terrorist.
- Shout-Out: To The Little Prince, although Andre really rags on it, even comparing it to Nazism. He winds up discussing many of the same themes explored in the book as the night goes on, however, including feelings of isolation, questions about love, connections between people, and exploration vs. isolation/introspection.
- Slice of Life: Played With. What's shown onscreen is little more than a casual two-hour conversation in a restaurant. However, the weird stories Andre tells could of themselves make the plots of entire movies.
- 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 dirtier than it is now.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Given the very grounded and unbiased way the movie treats the characters and their conversation during the dinner, the movie is squarely in the middle of the scale, slight leaning towards idealism thanks to both characters getting pretty well with each other despite their disagreements and Wally having seemingly found a new insight on life after talking to Andre.
- Speech-Centric Work: A particularly well-known example.
- Spiritual Successor:
- Wally and Andre Shoot Ibsen.
- Vanya on 42nd Street was Malle's last film, co-produced with Andre Gregory and starred Wallace Shawn.
- Talking Heads: The modern Trope Codifier.
- Title Drop: The very last words of dialog: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.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Wally vents at Andre during the last third of the film.