Melvin Goes to Dinner (2003) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual dialogue
Running Time: 83 min.
Cast: Michael Blieden, Matt Price, Stephanie Courtney, Annabelle Gurwitch, Kathleen Roll, Maura Tierney, Melora Walters, David Cross, Jack Black
Director: Bob Odenkirk
Screenplay: Michael Blieden
A pleasant little film, aided greatly by some very believable, naturalistic performances by the main quartet of actors, Melvin Goes to Dinner is a fun and thoughtful comedy for those who like small, independent features about the everyday lives of people. The star of the film, Michael Blieden, originally conceived of this as a play, which was released under the title “Phyro-Giants!”, where four people in their thirties sit around a table for dinner and discuss the banal, from sex to religion to fidelity. It’s a talky affair, but even if there’s little action, it’s always interesting.
The story kicks off with Melvin, “accidentally” calling an old friend, Joey (Matt Price) , who takes the opportunity to invite him to dinner so they can catch up on things. Once there, Melvin is introduced to Joey’s friend Alex (Courtney), in town briefly while on a work assignment. Alex has invited a friend of her own, Sarah (Gurwitch), who she literally ran into on the way to dinner, and soon the four share a few drinks, and a few laughs, while getting acquainted for the evening.
Not much more to it other than pleasant, lively conversation, but as directed by Bob Odenkirk (of HBO’s “Mr. Show” fame), the effect never really feels as stagy as you’d think. One reason is that the constant flashbacks to things in the past have relevance to the current conversation, many of which feature some surprise appearances from better known actors, like Jack Black (School of Rock), Maura Tierney (Liar Liar), Melora Walters (Magnolia) and David Cross (Small Soldiers). The direction is lively despite the confines of the setting, with a great deal of perfectly times reaction shots that enhance the mood and feeling of the camaraderie among the participants in the conversation.
With acute characterizations, and a very natural feel, Melvin Goes to Dinner makes us feel like we’re the fifth guest at the table, listening in on the conversation of four very funny and intelligent people, and laughing along with them. As much as I admired and was entertained by the film, it doesn’t quite hold up to the very end. As good as it is most of the time, eventually you come to the same conclusion that you might whenever you meet a group of strangers -- they seem like good folk to hang out with for a while, but after a few drinks and a few hours being with them, you’re glad to finally get away to the comfort of your own private life.
©2004 Vince Leo