Sunday, September 02, 2007

Movie Log: Melvin Goes to Dinner

In a well-ordered universe, Netflix would have sent a Sonic X disc for my sons to watch for the long weekend, and I wouldn't have seen Melvin Goes to Dinner yet. Unfortunately, we live in a random, chaotic realm, and so Melvin came in the mail on Saturday and I saw that night.

Not that there's anything wrong with Melvin -- he anchors a nice movie -- but my plan was to put him off until next week sometime. But this year has been an object lesson about how my plans don't work out, so I'd better learn to roll with it.

I don't think this ever had a theatrical release, though it wowed them at the festivals. It's a short comedy-drama, mostly about four people having dinner at a restaurant (in L.A., I believe), though it's not presented quite in chronological order and has scenes both before and after the dinner. It also was based on a stage play, and it does feel a bit stagey -- the characters make long speeches, and the four-people-at-a-table set-up is clearly derived from the stage. But turning this story into a movie did open it up some; it does move out into other scenes, and that keeps it from being claustrophobic. (Though the hand-held camera work during some of the restaurant scenes adds that back in; there are an incredible number of shots of the back of someone's head in this movie.)

Melvin (director Michael Blieden) is a thirty-ish slacker, working for his sister (Maura Tierney) in some kind of government construction planning office after having dropped out of a psychiatric residency. He's going to meet his friend Joey (Matt Price), an unspecified businessman, for dinner. Joey's friend Alex (Stephanie Courtney) is in town for the day, so Joey invites her along. And Alex runs into her old friend Sarah (Annabelle Gurwich) on the street, and drags her into the dinner. So the final count is four people with tenuous connections...until we learn more.

Melvin Goes to Dinner is not a movie of plot; it's about what these four people talk about, and secondarily about what they reveal about themselves along the way. I enjoyed it; I think my wife found it pleasant but less engrossing. There's a lot of good detail acting -- glances, facial expressions, that sort of thing -- and camera work that catches it, so you have to pay attention to it. I found the four main characters interesting and engaging, and I liked the stories they told. (A fair bit of their talk is about sex, if that attracts or repels people.) But if you thought Sideways was a slow, self-indulgent movie about people you hated, don't go anywhere near Melvin Goes to Dinner.

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