June 29, 1999 [The Dinner Game]

The Dinner Game achieves a balance between the heartlessness necessary for farce and the optimism of a true comedy--in which every choice leads to more choices, a road that just keeps opening up.  And certainly every time the hapless Pignon opens his mouth, a new plot begins--like the previous one only in that he has committed some error that is, to be fair, obvious to us only because we know he's in a movie where he's an idiot.

Pignon is chosen by a self-assured--and -absorbed--publisher in a competition to bring the biggest idiot to a dinner, a game that is one more reminder of the disdain a few bad men have for the rest of us, content as we are to talk about nothing in particular and have pointless enthusiasms--you know, the kind that don't make piles of money--not that I wouldn't like more money; but must I think about it all the time, does money have to be the only thing I can use to buy the right to call some people idiots?  Can't I just stop paying attention to which (lower) rung of the ladder I'm on and goof off or turn on the TV or build the Eiffel Tower out of matchsticks like Pignon?

The movie seems to tell me that sure, I can go ahead and take up a hobby and smile faintly and make the best of it--but it's also brave enough (that is, funny enough: comedy is hard) to never let me forget that anyone can play idiot's delight: At the end, when Pignon shows his true worth and earns more than our pity, and even the publisher sees what a jerk he's been, Pignon opens his mouth one more time and lets the plot take one more turn, the game still being played by anyone idiotic enough to keep playing--including the crummy rich guy and his friend and wife, idiots first and always.


  1. I don't know this film and am kind of surprised that Paul Russ/Stephen Carell film had an illustrious predecessor. But actually what brings me here now is that I just read your great comments on Chandler & The Long Goodbye on Wonders from a year ago and wanted to let you know I recently wrote up the film & novel on my site. I think ny take on them overlaps significantly with yours. Sorry for spelling errors - I'm trying to figure out how to do this stuff from an iPhone haha. Anyway I'd love to hear more from you on the subject. I've been on a big Chandler kick lately.

  2. Yeah, The Dinner Game is very satisfying--it shows its stage origins, but, like the film version of The Odd Couple, it uses that to advantage. As for Marlowe and Altman, I've already vented mightily on your site.


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