Over the years, the Sundance Film Festival’s become a cinematic harbinger of emerging filmmakers. Most importantly, almost every year a new coming-of-age story manages to captivate its attendees. Heartwarming tales such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Honey Boy (2019) captured something universal in each of us; an experience we’ve all shared even though we come from different backgrounds. However, the best stories, such as Rushmore (1998) and Eighth Grade (2018), highlight the complicated journeys of the more idiosyncratic characters. Writer-director Adam Rehmeier continues this trend with his charming tribute to punk rock, Dinner In America. Since premiering in 2020, produced by Ben Still (The Cable Guy), Dinner In America is a nihilistic black comedy with the anarchic energy of a cherry bomb. What begins as a rebellious satire of American society turns into a heartwarming journey about self-acceptance.
Set in a Midwestern suburb, Simon (Kyle Gallner) is a young man who lives and breathes punk rock. He makes a living by occasionally committing crimes while subjecting himself to medical experiments, but when his chaotic lifestyle begins to catch up with him, he ends up on the run from the law. Meanwhile, Patty (Emily Skeggs) is stuck in a state of arrested development; she’s a twenty-something college dropout still living with her parents, desperately in search of a purpose. While Patty might seem like she’s drifting through life, she does have a passion for music, and desperately wants to see her favourite hardcore punk band, Psyops. A chance encounter between the two offers Simon the refuge he needs and Patty the opportunity to attend a concert. As their unlikely friendship begins to grow, they form a connection and find strength in each other.
What makes this renegade love story so intoxicating is the incredible performances from the two leads. Channelling his inner Lou Reed from CBGB (2013), Kyle Gallner delivers a magnetic performance as punk rock frontman Simon. Fuelled by rebellion against the notions of conformity, Simon’s loud and offensive persona echoes that of Mathew Lillard in SLC Punk! (1999). However, Gallner infuses his character with a captivating charm, sharp intelligence, and a surprising vulnerability one wouldn’t expect. Simon’s so charismatic and cool it’s easy to ignore his homophobic slurs amidst his colourfully profane language. Similar to Henry Rollins, his anarchic attitude is infectious and the actor steals every scene with a sneer on his face and a cigarette in his mouth. Likewise, Emily Skeggs (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) is equally captivating as Patty. Those who identified with Thora Birch in Ghost World (2001) will adore her performance here. The actress’s expressive wide-eyed innocence behind her thick glasses makes her character completely endearing. The chemistry between Gallner and Skeggs provides an authentic sense of heartfelt emotion and empathy.
After shocking critics with his controversial debut The Bunny Games (2011), Adam Rehmeier delivers an unapologetic skewering of US suburbia. Moving at a breakneck pace, he infuses the screenplay with an infectious amount of anarchic energy and dark humour. Similar to Napoleon Dynamite (2004), Dinner In America flourishes with little nuances reflecting the absurdities of everyday life. Moments including a woman sitting next to Simon on an empty bus and random encounters with shop assistants are peppered throughout. However, it’s during the interspersed series of traditional awkward family meals where Rehmeier’s dark comedic sensibilities truly shine. Echoing Heathers (1988), the dysfunctional family dynamics, toxic masculinity, and social interactions will create laughs in the unlikeliest of moments. Simon’s blend of outlandish fabrications and brutal honesty effortlessly reveals the cracks in the All-American family facade. A momentous sequence involves Simon accepting the sexual advances of a housewife (Lea Thompson) before theatrically incinerating their garden. Another highlight occurs when he casually reveals a child is adopted during a prayer. Rehmeier’s criticisms are hilariously sharp and accurate, unveiling the ritualised conventionalism of the typical conservative American family.
Borrowing elements from Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) and Buffalo ’66 (1998), Rehmeier crafts a charming coming-of-age tale. Dinner In America’s greatest strength is Simon and Patty’s heartwarming transition from punk rock anarchy to swooning romanticism. Simon’s a politically incorrect opportunistic criminal dealing drugs to fund his band’s next album. Whereas Patty’s lack of self-awareness and naivety makes her a victim of bullying. As they venture on their joyously dark-hearted journey, their animosity slowly develops into an unconventional romance. Eventually, their bond strengthens and they both undergo a transformative evolution bringing out the best in each other. With the help of a dead cat and a polaroid camera, Simon teachers Patty to become confident and step outside of conformity. Likewise, Simon learns that being punk doesn’t require him to act a certain way. He doesn’t need to reject the affection and love of others to write rebellious music. They’re an unlikely pair but their blossoming romance is undeniably charming. Rehmeier authentically encapsulates the trials and tribulations of a teenager trying to discover one’s identity and falling in love for the first time.
Beneath its abrasive exterior, Dinner In America demonstrates how music remains a cathartic outlet for those who feel misunderstood. Rehmeier explained that “at its heart, the film is an underdog love story about two very different characters, each marginalised misfits in their own right. They find each other through music”. This is perhaps best encompassed during Patty’s transformation from a timid young woman to a confident musician. Prior to meeting Simon, Patty dances to her favourite punk records by herself without the judgment of others. As the characters find themselves on a turbulent journey of self-discovery, it becomes clear their love of music is the glue that cements their bond. After performing for the first time, Patty slowly finds her voice and acceptance of herself. This manifests through a surprisingly tender scene when Simon and Patty create a song together in his basement music studio. Using one of Patty’s love letters, the two create an incredible original song called “Watermelon”. Written by Rehmeier and Skeggs, the song serves as the standout on the soundtrack and is destined for vinyl release. As Patty softly sings the lyrics (“fuck them all but us”), an organic intimacy unfolds. While finding solace in their shared love of music, they reveal a genuine connection of which each other.
Overall, Dinner in America captures the spirit of punk rock while simultaneously creating an unconventional tale of love and self-acceptance. Rehmeier’s tribute to the genre is a winning combination of Gregg Araki’s (The Doom Generation) provocation combined with Richard Linklater’s (Dazed and Confused) charm. Anchored by two phenomenal performances by Gallner and Skeggs, whose chemistry is palpable and a joy to watch. With a runtime of 100-minutes, Rehmeier seamlessly crafts a loud and rebellious love story filled with devilish humour. However, beneath its aggressive exterior remains a poignant message about being authentic with yourself without the judgement of others.
USA | 2020 | 106 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Blu-ray Special Features:
Presented in its original 2:39:1 aspect ratio, Dinner In America takes the stage with a phenomenal 1080p transfer. Complimented by Jean-Philippe Bernier’s (Summer of ‘84) cinematography, the picture quality is striking. The wide-angle shots capture the Midwestern landscape with clarity and depth. Rehmeier utilises natural lighting allowing the palette to pop with a bit more vividness. This is especially notable during Simon and Patty’s date in an American diner with primaries leaping off the screen. Whereas the combination of red and blue neons during the arcade sequence looks gorgeous. Blacks remain inky with some appealing definition during the darker sequences including Psyops’ live show. Additionally, flesh tones remain natural, and detailing is sublime. Every whisker of facial hair on Simon’s face and each freckle Patty’s cheeks are prominent. Overall, the picture quality is superb throughout, bordering on appearing to be a 4K transfer.
Dinner In America includes a boisterous English DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound audio track with optional subtitles. Unsurprisingly, the raucous soundtrack gets top priority. Whether it’s John Swihart’s infectious score or many of Psyops punk songs, the mix handles everything with precision and clarity. The distorted synths and thrashing guitars sound terrific, with a nice extension between all channels and some heavy bass to enhance depth. The live performance of “Dinner In America” is a particular highlight containing beating drums and distorted guitars enveloping the soundstage. Dialogue remains crisp and clean anchored primarily at the front, the rear channels are filled with immersive atmospherics. It’s a well-balanced and unsurprisingly forceful track that’s sometimes as heavy and abrasive as the movie’s attitude.
- High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation.
- Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
- Brand new audio commentary with director Adam Rehmeier, producers David Hunter and Ross Putnam and lead actors Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs.
- Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 live-streamed Q&A with Adam Rehmeier, Emily Skeggs, Kyle Gallner, Ross Putman, and cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier hosted by Mitch Davis.
- Pendance Film Festival 2021 live-streamed Q&A with Adam Rehmeier, Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs hosted by Robert Misovic.
- Image gallery.
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by John Pearson.
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring new writing by Michelle Swopes.
Cast & Crew
writer & director: Adam Rehmeier.
starring: Kyle Gallner, Emily Skeggs, Brittany Sheets, Pat Healy, Griffin Gluck & Lea Thompson.