Nightstream Review: Dinner in America (2020)

Directed by: Adam Rehmeier. Starring: Kyle Gallner, Emily Skeggs, Griffin Gluck. Runtime: 1h 46 min. Released: This film premiered at Sundance in 2020; and is also screening at Nightstream Film Festival on Oct. 10 and Oct. 11, 2020.

An on-the-lam punk rocker, Simon (Kyle Gallner), crosses paths with a young woman, Patty (Emily Skeggs), who’s obsessed with his band, only she doesn’t know that he’s in the band she’s obsessed with. As they go on an epic adventure through America’s Midwest suburbs, they unexpectedly fall in love.

If you’ve ever wanted a movie with the abrasive punk rock attitude of Green Room, or the quirky comedy of films like Napoleon Dynamite, you need to look no further than Dinner in America. Simon as a character is in-your-face, abrasive and offensive, and just everything that’s cool about punk rock.

Patty is everything sweet and nice but gets bullied for not being the smartest person. She doesn’t even get bullied at school – she’s a 20-year-old who gets picked on by high schoolers because they’re on the same bus route. She totally seems like a character that could fit in that Napoleon Dynamite world, but she’s totally her own person.

Suffice to say though, these two people shouldn’t fit in each other’s worlds but when they collide, their chemistry is absolutely fantastic. They both play their roles so well and there are scenes here that totally broke my heart as they create Patty’s character and the struggles she has to go through, and I wrote down in my notes twice that Emily Skeggs is a “marvel.”

Dinner in America
Emily Skeggs and Kyle Gallner in Dinner in America. (Courtesy of Nightstream.)

She truly becomes Patty, with just the sense of humour that the character calls upon, and I’m so excited to see more from her. She is such a likable character, and the detail about her character of scrunching her nose when she doesn’t know something is great. There’s a point where she asks Simon what a pyro is and someone makes fun of her for it, and by this point of the film, the character is so well-written that when someone makes fun of her for this, we want to protect her.

In the film, that obviously comes from Simon who is like a protective guard dog if anyone bad mouths her. Gallner plays the role well as someone who shouldn’t be likable, but he totally is in an acquired taste kind-of way, but watching their relationship grow over the course of a couple days is honestly lovely. It’s just so impressive how writer/director (and editor) Adam Rehmeier is able to balance the film’s tone from one scene to the next – from a scene that is totally loud and total anarchy, and then it just goes into a scene that will make you laugh or cry. (One scene really got to me and that was something I didn’t expect going into this film.)

Like Simon and Patty, it’s not a pairing that sounds like it would work, but it’s totally surprising how well it works here. The heart of this film just totally won me over, and the hijinks they get into are hysterical, from trips of getting Patty money that she’s owed to them getting revenge on bullies who look like they’ve wandered off the set of an American version of Letterkenny, to a lot of other stuff that sounds super mundane on paper, but just totally entertains. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about this film as a romantic comedy is that it goes away from the traditional conflict structure, as there’s so much anarchy the conflict is really confined to that. This is just a slice-of-life kind-of story that absolutely impresses.

The film also has a killer cast, with Mary Lynn Rajskub and Pat Healy as Patty’s parents, to Griffin Gluck as Patty’s brother Kevin, who shares funny moments with Simon, as well. This is a performance that made me like Gluck. Besides the film’s big heart, it leans into the music genre in the last third of the film where we get a great original song called “Watermelon,” which Emily Skeggs sings. It is catchy as hell and I can’t wait until it’s released as a single.

Score: 88/100

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