Saturday, August 20, 2022

Dinner Party: Movie Review

A powerful and cathartic watch.

As all good indies do to take advantage of a minimal budget, Dinner Party occurs in just one location. A group of adults, all high school friends and their new significant others, have gotten back together for a dinner party. On the radio and TV, pundits are discussing a polarizing sexual assault case that has swept the nation. Little do they know, the friends are about to find themselves in their own sexual assault case played out at the dinner table.   2021

Directed by: Chris Naoki Lee

Screenplay by: Chris Naoki Lee, Daniel Webster

Starring: Chris Naoki Lee, Kara Wang, Daniel Webster, Imani Hakim and Charles Hittinger

It's a mostly eclectic group of friends: Cal (Chris Naoki Lee) an Asian-American and his Black girlfriend Izzy (Imani Hakim), Shannon (Kara Wang) an Asian-American and the only girl from the original group who is now dating high school friend Vinny (Daniel Weaver - and Greek fans, that's Ben Bennett!), Rish (Mayank Batter) an Indian-American and quiet friend of the group with his Indian-British girlfriend, and a trio of straight white men and their new girlfriends. It’s a large grouping, too large to be able to get to know all of the characters very well, but the filmmakers also wanted to get as many different voices represented.

It starts out slowly. The boys drinking beer in the backyard, the girls awkwardly getting to know each other in the living room, but almost all of the girls are very confident in themselves and won’t back down from confrontation. At first it becomes a social reckoning for all of society: racism, sexism, misogyny, privilege and the blind spots that privilege creates. Most of the men are being stupid and not actually listening to what others are saying, but that pretty much reflects society.

The conversation about privilege is fantastic. It starts with one jet-setting trend influencer Taylor (Adam Senn) who claims he owns his privilege because he flies around the world to let others experience it through his eyes. Most of the people don’t have time for such ignorance, but Taylor is also the type to walk away, refusing to own anything, putting himself above everyone else. The friends have always let him be the cool one, but this is the beginning of the reckoning and they are no longer fawning over his stories.

When the results of the aforementioned sexual assault case are announced, one new friend (Izzy) takes it upon herself to reveal the sexual assaulter amongst them, and those who knew and sat idly by for years has to own up to their silence. This is the most powerful part of the film, it so quickly cuts to the heart and should leave all viewers angry and sad and hopeful; a cathartic release of emotions because the characters at the center of it are so genuine and real. My guess is this was crafted out of a real situation because it just echoes so many truths that I personally know, and I loved the ending. An ending that doesn’t happen for most people but feels like it will be more common for this new generation.

Kara Wang as Shannon, writer-director-star Chris Naoki Lee as Cal, Daniel Webster as Vinny and Charles Hittinger as Miles are the central figures after the shit hits the fan, and they absolutely own the screen. None of the emotion is cheap which allows this tiny indie to hit hard. For those ready for a modern reckoning of a past sexual assault, Dinner Party is a powerful and cathartic watch. I'll leave you with a line that Shannon gives that will stay with me since it accurately paints the truth: "The voice screaming in my head became a whisper in the dark."

One of the Best of 2022

Similar Titles:

  Emergency - Smart, funny and way too real.

  Love You Anyway - Unique and inventive, a powerful and beautiful tale of love and depression.

  The Alpines - A little convoluted and slow, but an ending which really fits the characters.