Guess who’s coming to dinner? It’s not Sidney Poitier. No, it’s some no-good punk with a weird haircut, who will try to hook up with your mom and light your front lawn on fire. At least his presence offers some excitement in this dull Midwest suburb. Written and directed by Adam Rehmeier, Dinner in America is a foul-mouthed romantic comedy, the perfect date night viewing for misanthropic lovers.
Simon (Kyle Gallner, Jennifer’s Body) is a pissed-off pyromaniac, trying to make some scratch by selling drugs and participating in pharmaceutical trials. One day, while running from the cops, Simon is helped out by 20-year old pet shop girl Patty (Emily Skeggs, The Miseducation of Cameron Post), who points the officers in the opposite direction. Looking to lay low for a bit, Simon convinces Patty to let him stay at her house in the suburbs, where he meets her family, dysfunctional in their own way. Together, Simon and Patty terrorize the suburbs, picking fights with obnoxious jocks and Patty’s stingy boss.
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“Dinner in America is a foul-mouthed romantic comedy, the perfect date night viewing for misanthropic lovers.”
What Patty doesn’t know is that Simon is secretly the mysterious frontman of her favorite punk band Psyops. He has managed to protect his identity by performing in a ski mask, using the pseudonym John Q Public. For months, Patty has been sending John Q love letters in the mail, along with polaroid shots of her crotch. It just goes to show how small a local punk scene can really be.
Simon and Patty are polar opposites, and by any other metric, should not be compatible. But they are both misfits, in their own way. Simon is antagonistic and standoffish, yet he can sweet talk anyone to get his way. Viewers will constantly be undecided whether they like or hate him. Hell, even Simon’s own bandmates hate him. Patty, on the other hand, is socially awkward and occasionally airheaded. She dreams of becoming a sexually awakened badass but doesn’t know the first step to achieve that goal. She’s often bullied by jocks on the bus, mocked by her little brother, and infantilized by her parents. Punk music offers her an escape from her mundane life.
At first, Simon hangs around Patty because she’s naïve and easily manipulated. But as they get to know each other, Simon reveals his more tender side. He wants to shield Patty from her bullies and teach her how to stand up for herself. Eventually, Patty proves she’s more than just a nerdy bland girl, and that she has a “punk-as-fuck” sprit. It’s a real breakout role for both Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs.
The film satirizes the white American suburban family and the daily tradition of sitting down at the dinner table, a practice that’s meant to be civilized and a bonding experience, but as we see with every family Simon sits down to eat with, the façade of pleasantry quickly crumbles, and conversations turn into shouting matches. Siblings hurl insults at each other, while mom encourages everyone to “take it down a notch!” In every dinner scene, the camera quickly cuts to each member of the family at each end of the table as they bicker incessantly. When eating out at diners, Simon often threatens onlookers at other tables, telling them to mind their own business, thus gaining more attention by raising his voice.
Simon has held onto Patty’s fan mail, convinced her love poems would make for great lyrics to power-pop songs. It brings up this anomaly I recently noticed of hardcore bands going down the route of powerpop (like Angel Du$t and Ceremony), trading in raw aggression for bubblegum romance. Simon and Patty record a song on a four-track together—Simon playing all the instruments while Patty sweetly sings, for the first time, in one take. “Watermelon” becomes the theme song to their relationship. The song has been stuck in my head, along with Psyops’ track “Dinner In America” which they play near the end. Although the movie was shot in Detroit, Adam Rehmeier went across the river into Canada to search for musical talent, tapping Windsor punk band Disco Assault to provide the “Reagan-era hardcore” sound of Simon’s band. I think a lot of people who saw Dinner in America this past weekend are hoping for an official soundtrack to be released along with the film.
It’s unclear what year Dinner in America is set in. There’s mention of playing to “a wall of cellphones,” yet there’s no cellphone in sight. Instead, it has a real nineties vibe to it, especially in its style, thanks in part to cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier (Turbo Kid, Summer of ’84). It’s a lot like a post-high school Napoleon Dynamite— that is, if Napoleon had a mohawk and flipped everyone off. Dinner in America is both a cute coming-of-age tale and a devilishly dark comedy that spits on everything America holds dear. Adam Rehmeier has come a long way from his torture porn debut The Bunny Game, though his sick sense of humor remains.
“Dinner in America is both a cute coming-of-age tale and a devilishly dark comedy that spits on everything America holds dear.”
Adam Rehmeier’s Dinner in America celebrated its Quebec Premiere at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Click HERE to follow all of our festival coverage, and be sure to let us know if you still have that song stuck in your head on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!