‘Dinner with Friends’ is apparently based on a play of the same name, which makes a great deal of sense in retrospect. It was originally made for TV, back in 2001. There are only four significant characters, which is quite unusual in a film. Karen (Andie MacDowell) and Gabe (Dennis Quaid) are the main pair. They’ve been married for about twelve years, and work together as food photographers and reporters. They have recently returned from a trip abroad, and we meet them when they, and their young sons, are expecting their closest friends to dinner.
Beth (Toni Collette) arrives in pouring rain, along with her two children, but her husband Tom (Greg Kinnear) is not with her. She makes an excuse but it’s clear that there’s a problem. Gabe and Karen seem remarkably unobservant and tactless, and she eventually breaks down and admits that he’s left her, after falling in love with a travel agent called Nancy….
The rest of the story is about Gabe and Karen coming to terms with this shock, and re-evaluating their own relationship. We hear Tom’s side of the story, and then there’s a lengthy flashback to the time when Gabe and Karen were newly married, and looking forward to their two close friends getting to know each other….
The first half hour or so was really quite depressing, full of angst, and not at all the kind of light-hearted story I was expecting. Perhaps I should have read the blurb on the back rather than merely the length. But as it progresses, I found myself caught up in the lives of these two couples. There’s not a great deal of plot; it’s an exploration of character and relationships, and I found it to be realistic, on the whole; neither couple is shown as ideal, and even the best of marriages is shown to have tensions, misunderstandings and some anger.
While Karen’s strongly Southern accent is a little difficult to understand at times, she gives a great performance, and the chemistry between her and Gabe works extremely well. Tom, too, is mostly convincing, but we found Beth a little fake at times. As a young bohemian artist she is believable; towards the end, having lunch with Karen, she is also authentic. But we couldn’t quite believe in her grief-stricken and angry phase, which is the main part of the movie.
The children have occasional bit parts which are realistic, and they all did well in a film which, presumably, they weren’t able to see in its entirety as it’s not intended for children. I didn’t find any of it humorous, though there were odd mildly amusing moments, mostly connected with the children.
I didn’t like the amount of bad language, which is probably what gives this a 15 rating in the UK, and R in the stricter United States. There’s a fair amount of discussion about sexual issues too, which would also make this unsuitable for children or younger teens, but there’s nothing explicit, nor any nudity, and the one mildly violent scene is not particularly disturbing.
I can’t imagine that the content would be of interest to anyone younger than about twenty or so anyway as it’s essentially all about marriage, long-term friendship, and growing older.
I found the ending encouraging and positive, and by that stage was completely engrossed in it.
Review by Sue F copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews