The Dinner Game (1998)

“I didn’t expect her to be so cunning.”

Once a week, on Wednesday nights, Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) and his circle of snobby friends host an “idiot dinner.” Each participant is supposed to invite a guest–the biggest idiot he can find. The object is a sort of idiocy one-up-man-ship as the hosts spend the evening encouraging the guests to talk about themselves and their obscure hobbies (one guest, for example, has a boomerang collection). The “idiot guests”, of course, have no idea why they’re invited, and they are delighted to find an interested audience. These guests then unwittingly provide the entertainment for the hosts, and the hosts’ collective sense of superiority is re-enforced.

On this particular Wednesday, Brochant can’t find an idiot, but he’s tipped off about a certain Monsieur Pignon (Jacques Villeret), a jovial mild-mannered tax official–whose obsession is replicating national monuments by building models composed of matchsticks. Pignon’s crowning achievement is a replica of the Eiffel Tower (346,422 matchsticks). So Brochant invites a delighted Pignon to the dinner. Complications arise, however, when Brochant injures his back and cannot attend the dinner. With Brochant trapped and housebound, Pignon is unleashed into Brochant’s life. Pignon proceeds to demonstrate his idiot potential by his kind but bumbling blunders. Mishaps involve a zealous tax inspector, a disgruntled mistress, a distraught wife, a discarded ex-lover, and a wealthy Lothario with a secret love nest.

The Dinner Game is a perfect French comedy. It was originally a play, and you’ll get the sense of that as the action takes place. Timing and execution are perfect. Some of the film is laugh-out-loud funny, but the amusement never loses its momentum in this perfectly paced film. The cast is excellent, and part of the humour is derived from the layers to fun to be had here. Sometimes two characters giggle at the misfortune of a third, but then, before too long, the focus of the humour shifts attention and discomfort to another character. The film doesn’t miss a beat. If you enjoy French comedy, don’t miss The Dinner Game  from director Francois Veber. If you enjoy this film, I also recommend another Veber film, The Closet.

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Filed under Comedy, France

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