Dinner in America puts its own spin on the misfit rom-com recipe

Punk rocker meets social outcast in Adam Rehmeier’s initially offensive, subsequently charming and knowingly referential riff on the Amerian romantic comedy.

Emily Kreggs as Patty and Kyle Gallner as Simon in Dinner in America (2020)

Dinner in America is streaming on Arrow Player from 1 June.  

Unsurprisingly, many of the key scenes in Dinner in America take place around food: a greasy burger proves intensely satisfying, idyllic-looking family meals regularly turn into screaming matches. Highlighting the significance (and picture-perfect abundance) of the suburban dining table, and the barely concealed secrets and lies that swirl around them, is just one of the ways that writer-director Adam Rehmeier (Jonas, The Bunny Game) knowingly skewers the illusion of the American Dream.

That insight is not immediately obvious, however. Protagonist Simon (a seductively edgy Kyle Gallner) initially seems to be a standard-issue one-man wrecking ball, bluntly railing against notions of conformity in obvious ways; he’s a singer in a punk rock band, indulges in pyromania, deals drugs to local teens.

Similarly, 20-year-old Patty (Emily Kreggs) is a central casting social misfit, who is regularly picked on by more successful peers who have been plucked directly from American movie cliché (a pair of handsome jocks, some glamorous mean girls).

As the film establishes this pair as individuals, it plays more like a patchwork of wilfully shocking behaviour – Rehmeier thinks nothing of throwing in homophobic and racial slurs – than a cohesive whole.

Dinner in America (2020)

Yet when Simon and Patty meet-not-so-cute – as she covers for him when the police are on his tail then convinces her strait-laced parents (amusing turns from Pat Healy and Mary Lynn Rajskub) to take him into their home – the film finds its groove.

The pair discover a mutual love of music (unbeknown to Patty, Simon is the masked lead singer of her favourite punk band Psyops) and a desire to stay well clear of societal norms. A mutual fascination turns into something deeper, and soon the pair are prowling the Detroit suburbs, whose affluent houses are at direct odds with the decaying city centre, beating up bullies (or attempting to), demanding owed paychecks and making beautiful music together in more ways than one.

It’s a narrative that has played out myriad times before, but Rehmeier infuses this story with a sharp, disarming humour; standard rom-com moments, such as when Simon stands up for Patty on a bus or encourages her to take off her glasses, don’t play out as expected. And the palpable chemistry between Gallner and Kreggs is enhanced by some stunning wide-screen work by director of photography Jean-Philippe Bernier and an infectious electro-punk score by John Swihart – which blends beautifully with Colin Alexander’s sound design, car alarms and other urban noises often heard in tempo – so that Dinner in America has a winning upbeat charm.

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