The Dinner Game
Directed by Francis Verber
Starring Jacques Villeret, Thierry Lhermitte
French with Subtitles, 1998
The latest fashion from France? The Idiot Dinner Party! Find the biggest doofus you can, and trot him out in front of all your friends to impress them with your taste. Trendy publisher Pierre (Thierry Lhermitte) has stumbled upon an true gem — frumpy little tax man Francois (Jacques Villeret), grand master of matchstick model building. Pierre threw out his back today, but still wants to show off his newest “friend” to his real friends. They never quite get out the door, and Francois helps unlucky Pierre lose his wife and girlfriend while setting him up for a nasty tax audit. Best of all, they don’t end up fast friends by the end of the movie.
Tightly written and directed by Francis Verber, The Dinner Game sparks to life from Villeret’s astounding performance as the most amazingly well-intentioned ass imaginable. You want to despise him, and do, but feel vaguely guilty for not actually feeling guilty about despising him. It’s weird. The high point of the film is a completely unexpected joke played on a minor character. Most of the film carefully sets it up, but you don’t see it coming till it flattens you. I loved it.
Several of Verber’s earlier films were Americanized with unimpressive results, and this one may see the same fate. A good farce is rare, as any American director will pull the last punch to avoid seeming “mean spirited.” The French don’t have that fatal astigmatism, and realize that the heart of comedy revolves around a nasty, ill-intentioned banana peel on the emergency room floor. Bless their froggy little hearts.