The Dinner Game

In director Nancy Savoca’s film “Dogfight,” River Phoenix played a Marine ready to ship off to Vietnam who engages in an ugly date contest with his buddies. Each man was to bring the female equivalent of a dog to dinner, and whoever arrives with the mutt of the litter wins. Thanks to a talented cast and Savoca’s delicate handling of the subject matter, “Dogfight” emerged as more than a mean spirited exercise in humiliation.


In director Francis Veber’s latest comedy “The Dinner Game” (Le Dinner De Cons), the tables get turned on well-to-do publisher Pierre Brochant, who admits to his doctor that he and his buddies used to hold such contests when they were in college.

Now Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) and his friends have moved on to another contest. Every Wednesday evening they get together for dinner. Each participant must bring along an idiot, and whoever ends up with the biggest bore wins. The contest may be all fun and games for Brochant and his rich chums, but it leaves a bitter taste in the wife of his extremely patient wife Christine (Alexandra Vandernoot), who finds the contest mean and cruel.

That doesn’t stop Brochant from scouting for the perfect idiot, which he finds in Francois Pignon (Jacques Villeret), a middle-aged accountant at the French Ministry. A happy-go-lucky man who delights in showing strangers photographs of his matchstick creations, Pignon feels privileged to have been invited to dinner by an important publisher who has shown an interest in his work.

Like all classic Francis Veber comedies, the invitation to dinner is just the beginning of what turns out to be an evening of classic farce. What follows is one hilarious complication after another that escalates madly out of control. Before he’s done, Veber and his extremely talented cast will you leave you breathless from laughing so long and hard.

Veber’s screenplay for “La Cage Aux Folles” proved his ability to blend rich, adult humor with classic farce, and “The Dinner Game” carries on that tradition. Even though the film is in French with English subtitles, the characters and situations become so universal that you find yourself reading less and watching more.

Complications immediately set in when Brochant throws out his back, forcing him to stay in for the evening. When his wife leaves him over his dinner plans, Brochant tries to reach Pignon to cancel their evening. Unfortunately, the accountant is en route, forcing the crippled with pain Brochant to become an unwitting host when Pignon arrives and insists on helping. Sad to say, the sweet and honest Pignon really is an idiot, and within a matter of hours has completely ruined Brochant’s life.

Laughter flows as Pignon insinuates himself in Brochant’s affairs, crossing signals between Christine and his mistress Marlene (Catherine Frost), and absentmindedly inviting a tax auditor friend over. Of course Brochant has failed to declare any of his luxury apartment’s valuable artwork. As Brochant’s troubles escalate, so do the laughs in the film. Veber’s script is a terrific blend of witty dialogue and great farce, all perfectly realized by a cast that breathes life into the characters. Jacques Villeret is worth his weight in gold as the hapless Pignon. Villeret delivers a sly, calculated performance that relies heavily on expression and comic timing. He’s a master, and manages to make a rather annoying character quite engaging.

Even though he’s a wonderful actor, the first time I saw Thierry Lhermitte on the screen, I hated him because he’s so damned handsome. He has classic European features and steely blue eyes that rival Paul Newman’s. He puts those features to good use in “The Dinner Game,” creating a character that has everything except respect. He looks like someone who would have a luxurious apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower.

When Villeret and Lhermitte get together, the comedy fireworks begin, and the show is dazzling. Like all great comedy duos, these two give and take with precision. Their verbal exchanges are priceless.

The supporting cast is equally adept at bringing a smile or chuckle, including Francis Huster as Brochant’s buddy who funds much amusement in his friend’s situation, and Daniel Provost as the tax auditor who knows fraud when he sees it.

Veber does an excellent job of balancing all of the elements, never allowing any of them to fall. The film unravels so quickly you’re left wanting more. I love these characters, and wouldn’t mind spending more time with them.

IDIOT’S DELIGHT

THE DINNER GAME (LE DINER DE CONS)

Jacques Villeret, Thierry Lhermitte, Alexandra Vandernoot, Catherine Frost, Francis Huster, Daniel Provost in a film directed by Francis Veber. Rated PG-13. 78 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $7



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