“My Dinner with Andre,” Louis Malle’s art house hit from 1981, is all talk and not for the weak of heart.
When I say it’s all talk, I mean it; two men, friends of sorts who haven’t seen each other in a few years, meet for dinner, and talk about their lives, the meaning of life, the value of art, the future of mankind, etc. You know, typical stuff to talk about on any given evening.
Wally (Wallace Shawn) is more or less the main character, and he’s a bit of a sad sack. He’s a playwright, chronically underemployed, who doubles as an actor to make some money; he lives with his girlfriend, Debbie, who occasionally works at a waitress to finance their creative pursuits. He is not a happy man.
Andre (Andre Gregory) is a man who likes to spend his time abroad, on fanciful outings, trying to connect to others; he is continually striving for some unifying experience that transcends language, culture, age, race, etc. He’s not terribly successful, but he loves the journey, even when it takes him away from his wife and kids. He is a happy man.
For the first forty minutes of the film, those basic assumptions remain true. Wally enviously listens to Andre’s preposterous stories from his wandering life, and Andre is more than willing to share his experiences with someone who may need to hear them.
But as the evening goes on, everything changes; Andre is a terminally sad man who can’t live in the real world, who is constantly weighed down by all the indifference around him. He can’t shut his brain off to the horrors of modern life, so he keeps returning to various ‘transcendent’ experiences, Mount Everest or being buried alive in a mock funeral, in the hope of finding something to hope for.
Wally is unhappy with aspects of his life, but he’s content to just live. He occasionally works, goes to a party, or stays at home, and he’s just fine with how things have turned out in his life. He has hope for the future of mankind; he can find peace in mundane life.
It’s quite an unexpected shift and it comes with a price: 110 minutes of your life. If you’re going to see the film, I would seriously consider watching it in shifts. All that talk is a lot to take in, and I can’t imagine watching it all at once (I managed in three shifts just fine).
I can’t really recommend it because a lot of people are not going to like it. I can’t blame them; I’m not even sure I liked it. I took away something from it and that’s enough for me. It doesn’t have to be for anyone else.
“My Dinner with Andre” (1981)
Directed by Louis Malle
Written by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory
Starring: Wallace Shawn (Wally)
Andre Gregory (Andre)