This article was last modified on October 11, 2020.


NIGHTSTREAM review: DINNER IN AMERICA

An on-the-lam punk rocker (Kyle Gallner, VERONICA MARS) and a young woman (Emily Skeggs) obsessed with his band unexpectedly fall in love and go on an epic journey together through America’s decaying Midwestern suburbs in a vaguely mid-90s Michigan.

The creator behind this film is Adam Rehmeier, who first received attention around 2010-2011 with THE BUNNY GAME. In that film, a trucker kidnaps a prostitute and subjects her to what is politely referred to as “extreme torture.” Even for horror fans (such as myself), it was not the most pleasant experience or in any sense a feel-good movie.

I bring this up only to say that if you hated THE BUNNY GAME, you may very well love DINNER IN AMERICA. This is the opposite film in so many ways, not least of all because it has heart. Perhaps most of all because it has Lea Thompson as you’ve never seen her before (albeit in an all-too-short role).

Our leads carry the film, as should be expected from a story with two core characters on a journey together (even if said journey never really leaves town). Gallner has been a star for a long time, but has never quite reached the level of name recognition. This may be the role that changes that, as he fully envelopes the character of Simon, for all his faults (and surprising virtues). Simon, despite being our protagonist, is not likeable. And yet, through his obnoxious behavior, crude mouth and selfishness, we actually like him just the same.

Skeggs plays Patty, a girl who could be a leftover from WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. The whole town treats her as “slow” or “special needs,” and the viewer may wonder how true this perception is. No clear answer ever emerges. Though kind and sweet, Patty is perhaps even harder to like tha Simon, because she is just TOO awkward. But, again, something about her is endearing and it draws you in.

The only other characters who jump out are the weird track suit bullies, who defy description. They seem to be nerds, but are quite adept at fighting. They are the most awful people to Patty, but may be harboring a deep-seated lust for her. And there is something just off about them, as though the actors were trying out for an AMERICAN PIE sequel and ended up here on accident.

The punk rock flavor has the sensibility of a Gregg Araki film, mixed with a pinch of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and maybe a sprinkle or two of NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Heck, there are even some Troma vibes, and at least one person thought REPO MAN was an influence (I don’t see it). Bonus points for casting genre regular Pat Healy in a supporting role.

This is the type of movie that can only be labeled “quirky” – it’s not a comedy, nor a romance, and certainly not a romantic comedy. It is merely odd, but alluring… perhaps like GHOST WORLD, and yet altogether different. If you yearn for the days of 1990s indie cinema, this is probably the closest we will ever get again.

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