My Dinner With Andre (1981), or Two Guys Sitting Around Talking

27 07 2009

My Dinner with Andre is a treasure, simple as that. Rarely has a concept been so bold yet effective. It’s a movie about life; the struggle to create, the persistence of memory, the joy of freedom, and mesmerizing pull of the pragmatic. It’s about a lot of things, but the only thing you really see is two friends talking. The entire film is a long conversation between two friends,  one of those magical conversations where you talk about deep and meaningful things for hours on end. That, for me, is the richest font of creativity to be found, the sharing of ideas between two friends. And the two friends, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, just so happen to be real friends, which makes the experience even more genuine.

As I said, the movie is a deep and complex conversation. Andre has been gone for five years. He was a theatre director in New York for quite some time,  but he just decided one day to run away and live life. He traveled the world, exploring all types of exotic locales, searching avidly for meaning and inspiration through the different ways in which people live. He found it somewhere along the way, and now he has returned to the States for a while. Being gone so long, Andre has a lot he wants to say, and so their conversation over dinner soon after his arrival is long and almost hypnotically evocative.

My Dinner with Andre ends up being about, among many other things, the divide between friends and their different walks of life. Andre has come back with a message about the dangers of comfort and convenience, and how by creating a world separate from nature, we are not living in a total state of reality. Wally argues conversely that convenience is not wrong, and that creating a world apart from nature is a good thing, because there are so many bad things waiting to happen out there in the world. It is also about the pragmatist versus the idealist. Andre went out and he lived the dream. Wally has misgivings about this though, and doesn’t know whether he could do it as well. Is Wally holding himself back? Is Andre a dreamer who doesn’t live in the real world? What IS the real world; the exotic locales and harsh natural terrain that Andre lived, or the daily grind of New York life that Wally lived? Who knows?

I loved this incredibly simple movie, because it mirrors that perfect conversation so well. You always hope one of these comes between you and your friends one day, and though they rarely do, those moments are so priceless. And like a conversation, it’s very fluid and non-linear. One minute they’re talking about electric blankets, and the next they’re talking about their effect on our personal realities. What gets me is that if you listen carefully to what is being said, you can get so much characterization from these two that really enhances the conversation. For instance, listen closely to the opening monologue and digest what Wally tells you about he and Andre’s relationship prior to that night. Also pay attention to when Wally talks about his life becoming harder. A lot of people say that the director favors Andre, but I think that Wally might be the beloved one, because he is graced with a character development that is deeper and more subtle than many of the characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Whether or not you side with Andre is another matter; I personally did, but many people will argue that he is overly pretentious, and while I might agree (I think even Wally would agree) I still enjoyed what he had to say.

Shawn and Gregory really turned a film made on the cheap and featuring no action, Hollywood stars, or vampires into a classic. I am floored by some of the things they discuss, even more so because I’ve had conversations that last that long, and I find it extremely relatable. It’s layers upon layers, and the first time you watch it will never be as good as your second time. See it multiple times to pick up on different things, takes one person’s side over another, or just for fun. It’s a well-crafted film that I can’t say enough about. I highly recommend this film to anyone who longs for that delicious bit of intellectual conversation with a friend in a cozy restaurant because they know just how fulfilling it can be. I give My Dinner With Andre 9 1/2 wonderful evenings out of 10! A high recommendation!

I’ll see you tomorrow, when we discuss Beetlejuice! Until then!

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