On paper, writer-director Oren Moverman’s The Dinner has all the ingredients for what should be a four-star feast. But from the opening course, it’s clear that something has gone wrong in the kitchen. Moverman, the chef, has tried to make his creation too clever and complicated.
Based on Dutch author Herman Koch’s best-seller about a family more used to burying secrets than addressing them, the film stars Steve Coogan and Richard Gere as estranged brothers torn apart by decades of competitiveness and mental illness. But a recent tragedy involving their teenage kids brings them and their wives (Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall) together for an evening of truth-telling over a chichi meal at an exclusive restaurant that serves items such as young winter roots with Himalayan pink salt and burnt pumpernickel soil.
The narrative is structured around the dinner’s successive courses — as the preposterous complexity of the dishes escalates, so does the dramatic tension. But despite some fine performances (Linney) and some gratingly mannered ones (Coogan), the conceit becomes overwhelmed by revelatory flashbacks and melodramatic subplots. Moverman seems to be after the same sort of brutal, four-handed, long-stormy-night-of-the-soul exorcism of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But he never seems to be in command of all of the story’s various threads. So he just adds more until it feels histrionic and stagy and phony. Check, please.