Sunday, March 1, 2020

Second Thoughts and Second Chances: My Dinner With Andre (1981)

39 Years ago I had the worst movie-going experience of my life. I convinced a date to take me to see "My Dinner With Andre." And, no, the date was not the cause of the bad experience (although I will never forget the  "I pick the next movie" look on his face at the end of the film). The cause of this memorably bad experience was twofold; one: an hour and a half of pretentious on-screen drivel and, 2) the rave reviews by critics that made me think I had to like this.

And so, for 39 years, "My Dinner With Andre" has become the standard for my most hated movie of all time. Nothing, not even "Titanic," could compare. It has been the running joke in my life. If I compared anything to this movie, it pretty much stunk. My opinion was shared by some, so I felt completely validated in my negative view and there it has sat, for 39 years, my total disdain carved in stone.

So why, after all this time, have I chosen to revisit these 2 knuckleheads and their conversation over quail? Honestly, I don't know! Maybe I thought I would feel exactly the same, but, I ask you, how many things do you feel exactly the same about after 39 years?

Anyway, I dove in with an open mind and I humbly admit, I have changed my opinion... somewhat.

At first, I found myself again squirming in my seat over Wallace Shawn's Woody Allen-style New York monologue before meeting director Andre Gregory. Sorry, but whenever I see Mr. Shawn, I always think of Woody Allen's description of him in "Manhattan" - a homunculus (sorry, Wally). His complaint that he was now struggling in the theater and that he was raised in wealth still left me cold. And don't get me started about the two of them ordering quail and talking about esoteric BS while the poor old waiter had to stand by and serve them and probably listen to this drivel about seeing fauns in a Polish wood and being buried alive in the Hamptons on All Hallows Eve, not to mention creatures with poppies growing out of its toenails. 

But, at about 55 minutes in I started to lean in. Suddenly Andre, who had seemed too privileged and elitist, started making sense (no, I had not broken open the Cabernet). In 1981 he was talking about a society that was making us immune to feeling, to originality, to resistance. His intense quest to feel, to be authentic, was extreme (and nuts), but when he states that, as a society, we are bored, and because we are bored we are asleep and if we are asleep, we can not say "no," well, that made me think. And then I thought about all of those deep, and seemingly important conversations I had in college, before "real life" took front and center stage, when feeling and thinking deeply was not silly, and I felt that little tug that said I had lost something.

So, Wally and Andre, while I am still not sure I would want to spend an entire evening with you (although Andre generously picked up the check), I might consider a fast cup of coffee. Watching a movie that makes you think is pretty darn special.