Lowdown: A man toying with another pays the price for his mischief.
I like the work of French director Francis Veber, whose portfolio includes The Closet and The Valet. I like it enough to watch an earlier effort of his from 1998, The Dinner Game (a bad translation of the original title, Le dîner de cons). Indeed, there is a thread linking Veber’s work, a link that makes researching his past work even more interesting: all of his films feature a character called Pignon in the lead.
The Dinner Game’s Pignon is a nice but not overly smart guy, still devastated by his wife leaving him two years ago and channelling his energy to building matchstick models. Hear him talking about his models and you could easily misinterpret Pignon’s passion with idiocy, which is what the other film lead (portrayed by Thierry Lhermitte) does.
Lhermitte is a rich successful publisher who stole his wife from his best friend. For fun he plays golf with his rich mates and for entertainment he and his mates run dinners where they each bring an unaware "idiot" to make fools of themselves in front of a crowd of predators. Pignon, it seems to Lhermitte, is a perfect dinner guest.
Things don’t according to plan, though. Lhermitte sprains his back in a golfing accident, finding himself a prisoner in his own home with Pignon as a visitor. While the former tries to take advantage of the latter, the latter makes enough innocent mistakes to ruin the life of the former.
The affair that is The Dinner Game feels more like a play than a movie. For a start, other than a few minutes at the beginning and some other slight exceptions, things all take place inside Lhermitte’s apartment and the number of characters is limited to a select few. Under normal circumstances I would object because I tend to find plays turned into movies rather boring, but The Dinner Game – while not the most exciting film ever – just gets away with it. From the cinematic point of view, the play’s monotonic atmosphere tends to be broken by cuts and changes to camera positioning. Then there’s a plot smart enough for a film and some fine comedy moments.
Best scene: The corrupt Lhermitte needs to hide all of his art away from a tax auditor Pignon brings over to help locate Lhermitte’s wife which Pignnon turned away thinking she’s the mistress.
Overall: There can be no mistaking this for anything but a French comedy. The Dinner Game just, but just, manages 3 out of 5 stars.