A mumblecore success and Audience Award winner at SXSW in 2003, Melvin Goes to Dinner is an intricate relationship study of four people chatting over dinner about their struggle for satisfaction in life.
Following many failed attempts to reach his brilliantly surreal HBO sketch series Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk (now Breaking Bad‘s Saul Goodman) turned his hand to directing this perspicuous comedy drama (or is that, ‘dramedy’?). His film centres around four people: reticent Melvin (Michael Blieden, also the film’s writer), aloof Sarah (Annabelle Gurwitch), shrewd Joey (Matt Price) and ‘anything-goes’ Alex (Stephanie Courtney). Brought together for one night at a local restaurant dinner table, the tentative foursome make idle small talk, asking the blasé questions about life, aspirations and career. But gradually, with the wine flowing and their guards’ dropped, their talk turns revelatory, and we see intimate glimpses of their complex and, on the most part, unspectacular personal lives.
Translated to the big screen from Blieden’s play, the film is never able to shake loose it’s theatrical impetus. With unnatural dialogue and contextual flashbacks and forwards driving the evening’s conversation, it’s more of a struggle than initially expected.
Looking at this nine years after it’s release, MGtD is a foretelling of America’s comedy talent, with bit parts from Kristen Wiig and Jenna Fischer, along with a couple of old favourites like an almost High Fidelity era Jack Black and David ‘never-nude’ Cross. All this talent in one film, yet it’s never as funny as the boundless, Woody Allen-esque situation allows for.
A film about social nattering, the eighty three minutes running time let’s us eavesdrop into the secret lives of these four embellished characters. If only they had something interesting to tell us.