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Fantasia Fest Review: 'Dinner In America' is a tasty dark comedy fueled by punk rage

Adam Rehmeier’s 'Dinner In America' is worth every course, but gets more delicious the farther it gets into its angsty outcast menu.

Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs in 'Dinner In America.'
(Image: © Atlas Industries)

Our Verdict

'Dinner In America' serves up a romantic comedy for the misfits, the misunderstood, and those who aren't afraid of a little mayhem.

For

  • 🎸Kyle Gallner as punk incarnate.
  • 🎸Emily Skeggs as the superfan.

Against

  • 🎸Better as a romance.
  • 🎸Edgy for edgy's sake at times.

“Fuck the rest of ‘em, fuck ‘em all, fuck ‘em all but us.”

The above lyrics, performed by ostracized and bullied Patty (Emily Skeggs), pack an emotional punch I would never have predicted based on the first stretch of Adam Rehmeier’s Dinner In America. What starts as a nihilistic satire about Midwestern suburbia develops into an anthem for the outcasts produced by the unlikeliest pair. It’s punk-as-hell in a crudely anarchistic way but hides unconventional sweetness behind cynical defense mechanisms. Something you wouldn’t expect from earlier sequences filled with gay-panic dialogue (as commentary) and bastardizations of the red, white, and blue dream, the former which I could have done with less of, but still, sincerity prevails. Against all odds.

Kyle Gallner stars as Simon, an on-the-lam vocalist who unknowingly shacks up with a superfan (the aforementioned Patty) until police heat dies down. Why doesn’t Patty realize she’s housing John Q, Psyops' lead singer? Simon wears a black ski mast on stage (think Pussy Riot) to break various laws during the day and still anonymously rock crowds at night. Patty’s oppressive household, free of beer and temptations, is Simon’s nightmare but his only option. Then the unexpected happens: Simon starts falling for Patty’s bookish naivety as she experiences life anew with her free-spirited rockstar crasher.

Simon and Patty are a reckoning called upon their Americana prison, where ideals of perfection remind of “Bible Belt” bubbles. The jocks who continually use the “f-word” homosexual slur with incessant repetition and, by observation (tight matching tracksuits), are repressing some urges. The same bullies harass Patty for being “slow,” often referring to her as the "r-word" with equal hostility. It’s undoubtedly a toxic byproduct of growing up in a small town where everyone looks, thinks, and behaves like whitewashed clones, but it’s also an overused trope to highlight closed minds. The point is made, and aggro-bro stereotypes needn’t push this overbearing crassness for “dark comedy.”

That said, Simon’s mealtime torments are such a splendidly sneaky way to exploit our brainwashed culture's definition of "normal." Simon’s early interactions with a random family are the picturesque national symptom, as mom downs glass-after-glass of wine while dad and son glue their eyes to a television, two males sloppily shoveling homestyle deliciousness into their mouths. Or you’ve got Pat Healy’s one-day-missionary father to Patty, who complains of “spiciness” and appears allergic to any ethnic foods his caucasian-as-paste self can’t process (“comprehend” may be the better terminology). Culinary importance is stressed since every significant milestone, almost every bump-in-the-road climax, occurs either in a crumby burger joint booth or around a dining room table.

There’s a pitch-perfect quote from a food critic, whose name escapes me, about how the restaurant and dining experience promotes personal interactions first, sustenance second. We gather our loved ones around pizza pies or nacho platters or steak feasts to share stories, munch, but ultimately, to be present. The way Simon can exploit Rehmeier’s depiction of how this communal feeling escapes mainstream practices - as unaware husbands chug beers while their wives openly flirt with “weirdo” guests - emphasizes how we’ve forgotten ourselves. Lavish turkey dinners are a fool’s bounty in a home filled with dysfunction; Simon and Patty share their first passionate kiss over soggy-bun “Hawaiian” sandwiches (Midwestern style) in a local McDonalds ripoff. It's not about the meal's quality. It's about your company, and the moments you create.

Allow me this segue into Patty and Simon’s relationship, where each performer shines. Kyle Gallner’s rebel with a firebug problem is the corporate hating, sellout loathing, “weed is the answer” cynic who sees the world through jaded optics. Enraged eyes that are tamed by the socially awkward Patty as she experiences all her firsts with Simon. A girl whose parents deny her access to a concert because “The Alliance” sounds like a “militant” group. 

Patty proves to Simon that, despite life’s shit-sandwich nature, anyone can feel loved. Simon grants Patty her voice, through lyrics and angst, so she can reclaim her individuality from the countless many who snatched it away. Gallner ever the grungy, dangerously charismatic James Dean meets Henry Rollins hybrid with a soft spot for Whack-A-Mole. Emily Skeggs’ scrunched, nervous face and projected insecurities wash away as the actress owns her character’s blossoming confidence through erratic dances or giggly "revenge" thrills.

That’s what wins by the end of Dinner In America. This furious, renegade energy that morphs into something heartwarming amidst sweaty warehouse shows, police chases, chicken cordon bleu, and dead cat corpses used to embarrass those in need of an ass-whopping. How face-punch anger ballads about microwave dinners served up by Uncle Sam inspire pop-power ballads about heartstrings and kindred souls. Adam Rehmeier finds meaning in chaos, compassion in abandonment, once the film’s offense-driven beginning smooths itself into a couple’s attack against spiteful classmates, disillusioned homelands, and anyone else who dare write someone else’s destiny.